Islamabad: A momentous occasion unfolded at Allama Iqbal International Airport when Azerbaijan Airlines’ inaugural direct flight from Baku to Lahore touched down. The flight received a heartwarming welcome, not only symbolized by a water salute but also by the gleaming eyes of those who had longed to witness this historic event. This maiden flight connecting the two brotherly nations marks an unprecedented milestone in their relationship, one that stands unparalleled in history. What was once a shared dream has now become a reality, with the flight taking off on the night of September 23 and landing on September 24, 2023.
In addition to Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights, the AZAL flight represents another significant step forward in establishing direct connectivity between these two nations. Ambassador Khazar Farhadov and his team were on hand at the airport to receive the travelers, joined by esteemed dignitaries including Air Marshal (Rtd) Farhat Hussain Malik, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Aviation, the CEO of the Airport Authority, and other officials. The warm welcome extended by Pakistani officials mirrored the jubilant expressions of the airline’s crew, collectively celebrating the success of this historic direct operation.
Direct connectivity has long been a fervent desire for Pakistan, especially with Central Asian Republics and Azerbaijan. Pakistani tourists, students, and businessmen have faced the inconvenience of longer routes and increased expenses to reach these countries. Questions arise as to why, given their geographical proximity, cordial relations, alignment in regional and international affairs, and centuries-old historical ties, direct access has been absent.
Both governments, as well as business and community members, on both sides, share the desire for direct travel facilities between Pakistan and these nations. This desire is reciprocal and underscores the necessity of promoting people-to-people, business-to-business, and government-to-government ties across various sectors of mutual cooperation.
Successful models from around the world demonstrate how neighboring and regional countries have simplified access, encouraged trade, and ensured shared development through regional connectivity and cooperation, with the European Union serving as a notable example. Unfortunately, past efforts to establish direct connectivity have faltered due to low passenger numbers. However, recent initiatives from various quarters have once again breathed life into direct flight connections. Airlines such as Uzbekistan Airline, SCAT of Kazakhstan, and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) have been part of this revival. Now, AZAL has reciprocated by connecting to PIA’s flights to Baku, which were launched just a few months ago. Pakistani travelers are optimistic that these flights will be maintained and expanded.
The arrival of AZAL at Lahore airport was celebrated with grandeur. Ambassador Khazar Farhadov and Pakistani officials jointly cut a cake to commemorate the success of the first flight. The arrival lounge was adorned with flags of both nations and colorful balloons, reflecting the strong sentiments shared by both sides.
Ambassador Khazar Farhadov expressed his gratitude for the warm felicitations from everyone present, emphasizing that increased direct flights between the brotherly nations will not only provide passengers with more travel options but also further strengthen the fraternal ties between the two countries.
As AZAL departed for Baku with over 70 passengers, mainly businessmen, this significant number for a maiden flight signals a promising start. Many Pakistanis, including tourists, journalists, and traders, are eager to explore Baku via AZAL in the near future.
For Pakistanis in their 40s and 50s, Azerbaijan evokes memories of “Koh-e-Qaaf,” a mountain often found in children’s stories during the 1970s and 1980s. In Azerbaijan, this mountain is known as the Caucus. The tales of Koh-e-Qaaf captivated Pakistani children, where a brave prince risked everything to rescue a kidnapped princess from a demon with the help of a saint or a kind-hearted fairy. This nostalgic connection has the potential to attract more tourists from Pakistan to Azerbaijan.