Airline staff denied visa extension
With relations between India and Pakistan reaching freezing point, a government notice to the sole carrier for flights between the two countries, Pakistan International Airlines, is likely to set off a diplomatic storm, with an Enforcement Directorate notice to PIA to “dispose of” its properties in Delhi as their purchase was “unauthorised.”
The ED said the properties were acquired in contravention of the Foreign Exchange Management Act and without the requisite Reserve Bank of India permissions. However, PIA Manager in North India, Saeed Ahmad Khan, told The Hindu that the purchases of four office spaces in Connaught Place here in 2005 had received clearances at the time. The airline has been operating from there for nearly a decade.
“We are at a loss to understand why they are acting now, and how we will operate without marketing and sales offices,” Mr. Khan said.
The issue has been discussed between Indian and Pakistani authorities for two months now with no resolution, and sources said the Pakistani government was going to take it up with the Ministry of External Affairs soon.
On Friday, PIA responded formally to the ED’s notice (FE.CO.FID 673/10.91.409 dated November 24, 2014) asking the RBI to “immediately withdraw” the notice, which it said was “hampering our smooth operation for the larger interest of the people of both countries.”
The reply also added that the RBI had been informed of the purchase through ‘Form IPI’ on June 20, 2005, via Citibank that had processed the payments.
PIA closure would snap vital link between India, Pakistan
Official Pakistani sources said they were worried that the Enforcement Directorate notice to the Pakistan International Airlines on its offices in Delhi, had political overtones, aimed at “cutting off a vital link between both countries”. PIA runs the only flights between India and Pakistan, with two flights a week on the Delhi-Lahore sector and once a week on the Mumbai-Karachi sector.
If those flights are unable to run, the only option for travellers would be to travel by foot on the Wagah-Attari border in Punjab, or pay for flights via a third city like Dubai, which would be considerably more expensive.
According to official figures, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi issued about 64,000 visas last year, mostly to Indians visiting family in Pakistan, pilgrims, and members of ‘civil society’ who take part in school programmes, conferences and media exchanges.
A senior Indian official speaking to The Hindu downplayed the significance of the notice to PIA, adding that the Wagah-Attari route was in any case “the more popular” way for travellers to Pakistan.
Adding to logistical problems for PIA is that the visa of PIA Manager in North India, Saeed Ahmad Khan has not been renewed by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs, which has led to his mobile phone being disconnected.
When contacted, the Ministry of External Affairs said it had no comments on the issue. Pakistani officials insisted that the PIA flight service, that first started its operations to India in 1976, would not be cancelled, despite all the problems.
However, one official said they were apprehensive that the action came after Foreign Secretary talks were cancelled last July, and could indicate other actions could follow, which would “cause a further rift in ties.”