ISLAMABAD: The Imran Khan government will continue the closure of its eastern airspace for flights from and to India until there is a commitment from New Delhi that it will not repeat Balakot-like air strikes inside the Pakistani territory. 

Islamabad had shut the airspace on February 26 this year following the Indian airstrikes inside Pakistan, on a Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camp in Balakot, in retaliation to a suicide bombing that killed 44 Indian police personnel in Pulwama Kashmir on February 14. 

Well-placed sources told TOI that though the ban has been extended till June 28, Pakistan is likely to keep the airspace shut for India until there is some assurance from New Delhi that there would be no repetition of Balakot like a strike. 

On March 27, Pakistan opened its airspace for all flights except for New Delhi. Since May 15 the ban on eastern airspace has been extended three times. Earlier this week, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had said the government will again review the matter on June 28 but avoided giving further details on the issue. 

Sources said Islamabad was looking for an assurance from New Delhi that Balakot-like incident will not be repeated in future. The ban will remain in place until the issue is raised and resolved at the top level between Islamabad and New Delhi, sources said. 

Stating that the closure was due to security and diplomatic reasons, a top CAA official said on the condition of anonymity that it was very surprising that no back-channel diplomacy has been used in the last four months to lift the ban, given the huge losses to flag carriers of both the countries. 

Last month, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson, Dr Muhammad Faisal, had said: “We want de-escalation. If de-escalation takes place we would not like to have a ban on our airspace for India for a single day but for the purpose India will have to talk to us. India should show rational behaviour and must understand that issues will not be resolved through confrontation.” 

Since the closure of Pakistani airspace, the Indian aviation industry, according to media reports, is incurring more losses than Pakistan. Several foreign airlines are also being forced to take longer routes to reach other destinations. The closure of Pakistani airspace has affected flights from Europe to Southeast Asia while the flights from Europe and the US flying in and out of New Delhi have been the worst hit. 

The Delhi-Astana flight now takes three extra hours while Delhi-Moscow flight takes more than two additional hours. The duration of Delhi-Kabul and Delhi-Tehran flights have also doubled. 

The PIA operations for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi have been suspended since Feb 26. Before the ban, PIA operated four flights to Kuala Lumpur, two to Bangkok and two to New Delhi in a week. Foreign airlines operating on these routes had to suspend their operations as well. Pakistani passengers now have to reach Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok by taking connecting flights from the Gulf.