Friday, August 27, 2021

How a prolonged Afghan crisis could derail India-Central Asia connectivity

The weekly flight between Tashkent and Delhi took two-and-a-half hours to reach Delhi on August 10. The same flight took four hours and nine minutes on August 17. Kabul had fallen to the Talibani fighters and the airspace above Afghanistan was uncontrolled. As airline after airline decided to shun Afghan airspace over safety concerns, the flight on August 17 took a circuitous route, flying over Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan before entering Indian airspace. A normal route sees the airline operate over Afghanistan and Pakistan before entering Indian airspace.

This is the second time in two years that the airline has had to take a circuitous route; the first being in 2019, when Pakistan closed its airspace to flights originating and terminating in India after the Balakot strike by the Indian Air Force.

This year marks the thirtieth year of independence for former republics of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, a few of these five ‘stans’ from Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan) had a direct air link with New Delhi.

Successive governments from India have tried courting the governments in Central Asia but trade hasn’t grown by leaps and bounds. Most countries had a difficult visa regime and that meant even tourism was out of bounds. All of this had started to change recently. Indeed, pre-Covid-19, all the five ‘stans’ were connected to India, through flights operated by the airlines of the respective countries. No Indian carrier flew to any of these five countries.

27/08/21 Ameya Joshi/Moneycontrol

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