Pakistan airspace fully reopened, says aviation authority

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Samjhauta Express services to Delhi restored

Islamabad, Mar 4 : Pakistan fully reopened its airspace on Monday, authorities said, days after it closed its skies to all air travel, leaving thousands stranded worldwide as tensions with nuclear arch-rival India soared.

The decision to close the airspace came last Wednesday after a rare aerial dogfight between India and Pakistan ignited fears of an all-out conflict, with world powers rushing to urge restraint.

Both sides claimed to have shot each other’s warplanes down, and one Indian pilot was captured. He was returned to India Friday, crossing the Wagah border on foot.

“All airports across Pakistan are operational and airspace reopened,” a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Authority told AFP Monday, adding the process had been completed by 1:00 pm (0800 GMT).

The closure disrupted major routes between Europe and South Asia, with mounting frustration from passengers stranded at international airports.

It also delayed attempts to search for a British and an Italian climber who went missing on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s “killer mountain” and the ninth highest peak in the world, as rescue teams were forced to wait for permission to send up a helicopter.

The climbers, Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard, were last heard from on February 24. Fresh rescue attempts had to be called off over the weekend due to bad weather amid growing fears for their survival.

Pakistan began reopening its airspace “gradually” from Friday, with flights allowed in and out of major cities.

But the backlog means major delays are still expected and authorities have urged passengers to check for more information with their airlines.

Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities on Monday restored the Samjhauta Express services between Lahore and Delhi, days after the train was suspended due to tense bilateral ties.

The train departs on every Monday and Thursday from Lahore.

The Samjhauta Express carrying some 150 passengers left Lahore railway station for India, Radio Pakistan reported.

In New Delhi, Railways officials announced on Saturday that the two countries have agreed to operationalise services at their ends. India cancelled the operations on February 28.

The train operates from Delhi on every Wednesday and Sunday.

Pakistani authorities suspended the train service on February 28 amidst tense bilateral ties in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.

The footfall of the train, which generally records an occupancy of around 70 per cent, had fallen drastically post the Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed.

Tensions escalated between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Pulwama attack by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

The Samjhauta Express, named after the Hindi word for “agreement”, comprises six sleeper coaches and an AC 3-tier coach.

The train service was started on July 22, 1976 under the Shimla Agreement that settled the 1971 war between the two nations.

On the Indian side, the train runs from Delhi to Attari and from Lahore to Wagah on the Pakistan side.

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