First Pakistan-India flight in years

The first Pakistani flight to India in two years has arrived in New Delhi from Lahore, bringing the rival neighbours a step closer to normal relations.

    A steward of Pakistan International Airlines waves goodbye before taking off

    Pakistan International Airlines flight PK 270 on Thursday brought 42 passengers and seven crew to Indira Gandhi International Airport, where check-in counters for the return flight were decorated with flowers. 

    "A flight of friendship: happy days are here again," said a sign put up at the Pakistani state carrier's booth at the New Delhi airport. 

    On the tarmac, at least 10 armed soldiers guarded the plane as passengers boarded the flight back to Lahore, witnesses said. 

    Severed links

    Air links between the two countries were severed exactly two
    years earlier after India blamed Pakistan-based armed fighters for a December 2001 attack on its parliament that brought the nuclear-armed neighbours to the brink of war. 

    Under a series of tie-mending moves since April, the two sides
    agreed on 1 December to restart air services. The flights resumed three days before Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was due to make his first visit to Pakistan in four years for a seven nation South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) summit. 

    "The resumption of flights between the two countries is a matter of satisfaction for the people of both sides," said Captain Tasleem Muzaffar, piloting the historic flight. 

    'Emotional journey'

    An Indian man buys tickets
    at the PIA office in New Delhi

    In New Delhi, Smriti Awasthi said she was going to meet long-lost cousins in Pakistan, which was partitioned with India at independence from India in 1947. 

    "I have never seen them before, so this is a very emotional journey," she said. Rashida Amber, in turn, was travelling to New Delhi with her nephew Ajmal and daughter Saima to attend her niece's wedding. 

    "I will attend the marriage tonight and we will return on the 24th. Had there been no flight we would not have been able to attend the marriage," she told reporters before taking off in Lahore. 

    Ahmad Saeed Chaudhry, managing director of Pakistan
    International Airlines, said the carrier was starting six weekly
    flights from Lahore and Karachi to New Delhi and Bombay, with more flights to be added in the coming months. 

    Full flight

    "I am delighted the flights have been restored as I couldn't get a ticket on the bus. I would have been stranded for weeks."

    Aurangzeb Khan, Pakistani businessman

    In Bombay, the Pakistani airliner's sales manager Salim Janjua said a flight to Karachi was slated for Friday. 

    He said the flight was almost full, with 220 passengers. Indian Airlines is due to resume services between New Delhi and Lahore on 9 January, with a special flight on Friday for journalists and officials heading to the SAARC summit in Islamabad.

    Transport between India and Pakistan resumed in July with a bus service between New Delhi and Lahore. 

    "I am delighted the flights have been restored as I could not get a ticket on the bus. I would have been stranded for weeks," Pakistani businessman Aurangzeb Khan said as he arrived in New Delhi. 




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