ISLAMABAD - Pakistan fully reopened its airspace on Monday, authorities said, amid air chief’s remarks that difficult time was not over yet.

The decision to reopen the airspace was made days after Pakistan closed its skies to all air travel, leaving thousands of air travellers stranded as tension with India soared.

The decision to close the airspace came on Wednesday after a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani warplanes over the disputed region of Kashmir ignited fears of an all-out conflict.

Both sides claimed to have shot each other’s warplanes down, and an Indian pilot was captured. He was returned to India on Friday.

96 Sikh pilgrims arrive in Lahore from India to perform rites

“All airports across Pakistan are operational and airspace reopened,” a spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said on Monday, adding the process had been completed by 1:00 pm.

The closure disrupted major routes between Europe and South Asia, with mounting frustration from passengers stranded at international airports.

It also delayed attempts to search for a British and an Italian climber who went missing on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s “killer mountain” and the ninth highest peak in the world, as rescue teams were forced to wait for permission to send up a helicopter.

The climbers, Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard, were last heard from on February 24. Fresh rescue attempts had to be called off over the weekend due to bad weather amid growing fears for their survival.

Pakistan began reopening its airspace on Friday, with flights allowed in and out of major cities. But the backlog means major delays are still expected and authorities have urged passengers to check for more information with their airlines.

As a tense calm prevails between the two nuclear archrivals, Pakistan’s Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has written letters to the prime ministers of India and Pakistan, urging them to “defuse the rising tensions” between the two countries.

According to a statement, a letter signed by Nobel laureates under the aegis of Laureates and Leaders for Children, was submitted to India and Pakistan’s permanent representatives to the UN.

“In the best interest of our children, we, the Laureates and Leaders for Children, call upon Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to demonstrate wise leadership and exercise immediate restraint at this critical juncture, to avoid any escalation into a full-fledged war,” a letter reads.

“There is no place for violence, extremism and terrorism in a civilised world. This epidemic has to be eliminated through concrete and time-bound actions.

“We reiterate that children never create wars but are the worst sufferers. Therefore, we appeal to the two prime ministers, faith institutions, media, youth and the citizens of both India and Pakistan to work towards the restoration of peace in the region with utmost urgency,” the letter says.

The Nobel laureates who have signed the appeal include Leyma Gbowee, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, Malala Yousafzai, Muhammad Yunus, José Ramos-Horta, Edvard Ingjald Moser and May-Britt Mose and others.

In another development showing signs of de-escalation between the two South Asian neighbours, a group of 96 Sikh pilgrims arrived in Pakistan via the Wagah border crossing on Monday to attend their religious ceremonies.

These Sikh pilgrims had arrived earlier in New Delhi from Canada, United States and England and then travelled to Lahore on Monday. The pilgrims said they were not afraid of anything despite the prevailing tension between Pakistan and India. “We feel like we have come to our second home,” one of the pilgrims said upon arrival in Lahore.

After visiting their religious places in Lahore, the pilgrims will leave for Nankana Sahib on Tuesday. They will stay here for five days and then return to India again via the Wagah border crossing.

The government of Pakistan has allowed Sikh pilgrims from India to visit the country for Baisakhi Festival in April. According to the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), Pakistan will issue visas to 3,000 Indian Sikhs for 10 days. Prime Minister Imran Khan has issued special directives for arrangements for the Baisakhi Festival.

It is worth mentioning that recently a US-based Sikh advocacy group denounced Indian violations of Pakistani airspace and assured Pakistan of full support against any Indian aggression. “If India ever attacked, overseas Sikhs will extend full support to Pakistan and will stand shoulder to shoulder in thwarting any Indian attack,” said Sikhs For Justice (SfJ) in a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan.

In another development, the Samjhauta Express train service between Pakistan and India resumed operations on Monday, showing signs of improvement in the security situation between the two neighbours after weeks of heightened tension.

A train carrying 195 passengers left for Attari via the Wagah border crossing. The Samjhauta Express normally runs between the two countries on Mondays and Thursdays.

On February 28, the train operation was suspended, leaving Indian passengers stuck at the Lahore Railway Station for four days.