Friday, February 23, 2007

Pakistani plane waits for hours

New Delhi: A bizarre drama was enacted at the Delhi airport on Thursday after a Pakistani Air Force C-130 aircraft landed here to evacuate those injured in the firebombing of the Samjhauta Express on Sunday.
Around 5.30 p.m., Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam told this correspondent that only seven of the 10 Pakistanis admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital had reached the airport and three persons — Rana Shaukat Ali (46), his wife Rukhsana (40) and their one-year-old daughter Aksa — were "missing from the hospital."
"Our plane is stranded at the Delhi airport. We are waiting for the three passengers to be brought there," Ms. Aslam said, claiming that Indian intelligence agency personnel harassed Mr. Ali at the hospital on Wednesday.
Earlier, just after 4 p.m., External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna told presspersons that Mr. Ali and his family wanted to go to Panipat and return to Pakistan via the Attari-Wagah border. (His five children perished in the train attack).
Ms. Aslam said Pakistan High Commission officials were not allowed into the Safdarjang Hospital and told by the External Affairs Ministry officials that the patients would be taken directly to the airport.
Soon after, this correspondent telephoned Mr. Sarna for his version of the story. Just before 6.30 p.m., he rang back, saying that Mr. Ali and his family were "not missing at all" and "nobody was harassing anybody."
According to him, the decision not to allow access to the Pakistani officials was taken by the hospital doctors.
Mr. Sarna also maintained that the Pakistani plane developed a "glitch" and could not take off.
At 7.40 p.m., Ms. Aslam told this correspondent that the "aircraft was still at the airport" and they were informed that Mr. Ali and his family wanted to travel home via the land route.
Asked about the technical glitch, she said: "I am at the High Commission. Let me check with the pilots." A few minutes later, an Indian official said one of the engines did not start.
Finally, the plane left a few minutes after 9 p.m.
23/02/07 Amit Baruah/The Hindu
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