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British Airways announces return to Pakistan after a decade

The British carrier halted services to Pakistan after the deadly Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad in 2008/AFP

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec 18 – British Airways will resume flights to Pakistan next summer, the carrier announced Tuesday, in a major vote of confidence from a Western airline a decade after suspending operations due to security fears.

The British carrier, which halted services in 2008 after the deadly Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, will return in June 2019 with three weekly flights from London’s Heathrow airport to the Pakistani capital, airline officials said.

British Airways had six weekly flights to the Pakistani capital before the Marriott attack, which killed more than 50 people and triggered a major drawdown by embassies and international agencies over safety concerns.

The carrier’s announcement was “a reflection of the great improvements in the security situation in Pakistan” in the years since, said British High Commissioner to Pakistan Thomas Drew in a statement.

“We only fly somewhere when we know it’s safe to do so,” Robert Williams, BA’s head of sales for Asia, told a press conference in Islamabad.

Tickets starting at $630 were due to go on sale from Tuesday.

The announcement caused a stir on Twitter, where it was greeted with jubilation by many Pakistanis, and the Pakistan army tweeted its gratitude to the airline using the hashtag #PeacefulPakistan.

Britain is home to more than a million residents of Pakistani origin, making it the largest Pakistani diaspora community in Europe. The struggling Pakistan International Airlines is currently the only carrier with direct flights between the two countries.

Since the Marriott attack the country has been largely dependent on Middle Eastern airlines such as Emirates and Etihad, with most international flights routed through the Gulf, making travel expensive and cumbersome for many passengers.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific was one of the last major international carriers to cease operations in Pakistan after dozens were killed during a 2014 siege at Karachi airport by Taliban militants.

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Pakistan has battled homegrown militancy for nearly 15 years, with tens of thousands of people killed.

But the country has seen a dramatic turnaround recently, with security largely stabilised following several military offensives along the Afghan border and crackdowns on insurgents in urban centres.

Militants retain the ability to carry out devastating attacks, however, and analysts have long warned that Pakistan has yet to tackle the root problems of extremism.

Many Western countries have travel advisories in place to warn their citizens of the potential for kidnapping and bomb attacks, especially in areas near the Afghan border.

The announcement came after Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to revitalise Pakistan’s struggling tourism industry in effort to bring in much-needed revenue to its fragile economy.

Pakistan has a rich cultural and archaeological heritage, along with serene alpine valleys, pristine beaches and vast deserts peppered with vibrant Islamic shrines.

The country is also home to some of the world’s tallest peaks including K-2 – the second highest summit after Everest, which sits atop a region of 120 other mountains rising above 7,000 metres (23,000 feet).

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