The Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC) has sent a new proposal to the Indian government seeking to reinstate air travel for Hindu, Muslim and Sikh pilgrims between Pakistan and India on Saturday, reported the The Hindu.
Citing sources privy to the matter, the report stated that the Pakistan High Commission in Dehli had sent the proposal to India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on PHC Chief Patron Ramesh Vankwani’s behalf.
Vankwani, who is also a member of the National Assembly of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has asked to resume the two Pakistan International Airlines chartered flights that would fly from Karachi and Lahore to India.
The proposal, received on Monday, still has to receive clearances in New Dehli.
Meanwhile, according to the Indian publication, the Indian ministry has not commented on queries related to whether or not the flights will be resumed. According to a senior official of the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), PIA has not, to date, sent any requests related to the matter.
It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan had not given permission to access its airspace to Srinagar-Sharjah flights that began in November last year, while India had refused to let PIA take Indian pilgrims to Pakistan in December. This has led to speculations that this proposal will need a political push from both sides of the border.
If the proposal is accepted, this will be the first time in more than two years that a PIA flight will land in India and it will be the first ever pilgrim carrying flight since the two countries gained Independence in 1947.
Currently, road travel is allowed for certain Indian and Pakistani pilgrims through the Wagah and Atari borders, under a 1974 exchange agreement.
The proposal will enable the PHC to facilitate 170 mostly Muslim pilgrims and about 20 Hindu pilgrims. The PHC signed a MoU with PIA in December last year in order to organise faith-based tourism initiatives.
Under the MoU, the PHC has been able to fly in two groups of Hindu pilgrims to Peshawar from UK, UAE, Spain and other countries to visit the Shri Paramhans Maharaj Mandir in Teri, a district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
Indian pilgrims, who were facilitated by the initiative, crossed the Wagah Border by foot and took a flight from Lahore to Peshawar.
Vankwani also hoped that Pakistan would also be able to send pilgrims to India, while expressing how he would be eager to visit sites like Ajmer Sharif, Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah and other shrines.
If the proposal is approved, the pilgrims would be able to undertake a four-day trip to India - from January 29 to February 1 - including visits to Jaipur, Ajmer, Delhi, Agra and Haridwar.
MNA Vankwani said that he had also discussed the possibility of allowing Air India flights to travel to Pakistan from India with concerned officials. If this is permitted Indian pilgrims will be able to visit the Paramhans Mandir in Peshawar and the Hinglaj Mata Mandir in Karachi.
Air India last came to Pakistan in March 2008.
Pakistan suspended trade with India in August 2019, after the latter passed Article 370 in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, severely curtailing human rights for the citizens.
There are some confidence building measures between the two countries, including the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor for Sikh pilgrimages, exchange of prisoners from both sides as well as lists of nuclear installations that are exchanged on New Year’s Day.
Apart from these, the two nuclear-armed neighbours have no direct travel or trade connections, while missions in both Islamabad and Delhi not only have been downsized but are also working without high commissioners.