India has allowed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's aircraft to use the Indian Airspace to travel to Sri Lanka, reports have said.
Khan will be making his maiden visit to Sri Lanka on 23 February. Earlier, Sri Lanka had cancelled his scheduled speech in parliament, reportedly to avoid confrontation with India.
India allowing Pakistan to use its airspace is a large-hearted gesture as Islamabad had in 2019 denied India the use of its airspace for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's flights to the US and Saudi Arabia, citing alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.
India had then taken up the denial of permission to a VVIP flight with an international Civil Aviation Organisation.
Under normal circumstances, VVIP aircraft are granted permission by countries, and Pakistan's denial had been an aberration.
Imran Khan's Sri Lanka visit
Khan, who will be the first head of state to visit the country since the COVID-19 pandemic, is to hold talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena during the visit.
Earlier, Sri Lanka had cancelled Khan’s planned address to its parliament—his speech had reportedly been included at the Pakistan government's request. The Sri Lankan media later gave various reasons for the cancellation, Pakistan's Dawn newspaper reported last week.
The address was scheduled for 24 February.
According to Sri Lanka’s daily Express, Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage said Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena had requested for the cancellation, citing COVID-19.
Dawn, quoting Sri Lankan media reports, said there were elements within the Sri Lankan government that did not want the speech to take place as they feared that doing so could further harm ties with India, which have already been strained after the cancellation of a deal over the East Container Terminal in Colombo port.
It was expected that Khan would raise the Kashmir issue during his speech, which could have upset Delhi, it added.
Another speculation doing the rounds is that the Sri Lankan government was concerned about Khan speaking about the rights of Muslims in Sri Lanka, who have faced abuses at the hands of the Buddhist majority, rising anti-Muslim sentiments, and biased government actions.
The Sri Lankan government had made cremation mandatory for those dying due to COVID-19, enraging the Muslim community in the country. After a global outcry, it exempted the community from this rule earlier this month.
Khan had welcomed the Sri Lankan government’s decision.
The Pakistan PM's visit, scheduled a month after Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s three-day visit to Colombo, will coincide with the 46th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, where a new resolution on Sri Lanka is likely to be adopted.
Modi had addressed Sri Lanka's parliament in 2015.
(With inputs from agencies)