CHENNAI: Finally it’s official. As reported by Express, Pakistan will take chartered flights directly to Guwahati for the South Asian Games next month. This was decided after the Organising Committee got clearances from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs, Express has learnt.
Pakistan who are sending a large contingent of around 450 (including officials) will arrive in two batches – one on February 2 and the other two days later — before the event begins on February 5. According to top officials in the SAG organising committee, India have agreed to Pakistan’s request to let them fly directly to Guwahati instead of stopovers in Delhi or Mumbai. The organising committee, through a special notification from the Ministry of Home Affairs, got the nod. Even the MEA has ratified it.
A top official in the organising committee said non-validated passes were allotted to athletes along with their accreditation cards which will serve as visas. “Their cards will be validated as soon as they land in Guwahati, so there is no concern of issuing or declining visas here,” he said. The MHA and the MEA have been notified about the athletes and the NVPs were issued after getting necessary clearances from all agencies. “No NVP was issued without thorough scrutiny,” said an official. It has been learnt even the procedures on arrivals at the airport will manned by specially deputed security personnel.
This was necessitated after Pakistan was unsure of participating in the wake of Pathankot terrorist attack and prevailing security threat for Pakistanis in India. That the India-Pakistan cricket series failed to take off last month also added to the uncertainty. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the Games, the organising committee could not afford to lose Pakistan. Though the Pakistan government wanted maximum participation at the Games, India did not want to take any chances. India sent a four-member delegation of IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta, Bhubaneswar Kalita, and two sports ministry officials to talk to the Pakistan Sports Board and POA and extend a ‘formal invitation’.
Interestingly, Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati is not a busy international airport. It has been learnt that even Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka are joining Pakistan in taking special flights to Guwahati. IOA secretary general Rajeev Mehta confirmed the development.
“During the meeting, we found Pakistani athletes were not keen on taking long journeys, especially by road. That’s why they want to send their athletes in batches by air,” he told Express. “Now ever Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bhutan are taking flights to SAG. They are booking their own flights and coming. No one is sponsoring them.”