- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

NEW DELHI Sadness combined with a sense of waste and anger dulled any new year cheer on board the final Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight to India yesterday.

The Lahore to New Delhi flight was the last before a ban takes effect today on Pakistani aircraft using Indian air space.

The tit-for-tat ban was imposed amid soaring military tensions between the two countries in the wake of the recent attack on the Indian Parliament, which New Delhi has blamed on Pakistan militant groups acting at the behest of Pakistani military intelligence.

In Lahore, PIA official Saeed Khan tried, not without difficulty, to round up the passengers wanting to board Flight PK-270.

"This is probably the last flight for quite some time," Mr. Khan said.

The railroad stations of New Delhi and Lahore witnessed similar emotional scenes when the last of the Samhjauta Express trains left the two countries.

Hundreds of Pakistanis and Indians were crammed in extra train cars, trying to beat the governments' decision to stop train and bus services between the two countries from today.

Named for the Hindi word for "understanding," the rail service two trains a week in each direction was inaugurated in 1976 as part of a peace treaty.

The snapping of air links between the two countries does have precedent, notably during the three wars the South Asian rivals have fought since independence from British rule in 1947.

"Nobody is happy today," Mr. Khan said, noting that the air space ban would cause "serious disruptions" to the lives of ordinary people on both sides of the border who were "naturally upset and angry."

After the traditional Muslim prayer was relayed over the intercom, the Boeing 737-300 took off from Lahore at 3:25 p.m. without a word from the pilot, Capt. Farukh Cheemah.

On board, the passengers were mostly stony-faced and made little attempt to speak to one another.

Bhanu Prasad, a 40-year old textile engineer, was livid. A native of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, he had gone to Pakistan on a business trip and had originally planned to stay until Friday.

"Because of the problems, I'm returning earlier," he said. Criticizing the air-space ban, Mr. Prasad said that, as usual, "it's the ordinary people who will be made to suffer."

Thousands of families divided since the partition of the subcontinent will now be forced to make huge and costly detours in order to visit one another.

Mr. Prasad said he saw little chance of the military tensions escalating into an actual conflict.

"India is simply telling Pakistan to crack down on the militants," he said. "Perhaps they would act if evidence [implicating Pakistan] was made available."


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