Islamabad - Tajikistan is set to launch direct flights to Pakistan from May 6, ahead of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Dushanbe for inaugurating the Central Asia-South Asia (Casa) 1,000 power import project.

The flights, beginning from May 6, are aimed at strengthening bilateral trade and economic relations between the two countries.

Tajikistan would be the first among Central Asian states to commence direct flights to Pakistan. About 100 passengers go to Tajikistan via indirect flights and land routes through Afghanistan every month.

The first flight is scheduled to depart from Lahore to Dushanbe. There will be two flights per week on this route. Lahore to Dushanbe would be the first phase and in the second phase, direct flights would be operated from Karachi to Dushanbe. Tajik Ambassador Jononov Sherali said, “Direct flights would increase economic ties and people-to-people contacts between the two countries.”

Comparing the costs of direct and indirect flights, Jononov said, “An indirect flight costs Rs 120,000 while the direct flight will cost only Rs 35,000. Since it is a lot cheaper, it is likely the number of passengers will also increase.”

In the backdrop of efforts by both Pakistan and Russia to forge better economic ties, as manifested in the signing of a government-to-government $2 billion deal for laying a liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline from Karachi to Lahore, the Tajik official said, “Pakistani passengers can also use the Dushanbe route and take their next flight to Russia or even to Europe.”

At present, no direct flights operate between Pakistan and Russia.

Pakistan and Tajikistan are actively working on increasing the ground and air links, as they are keen to boost the bilateral trade and economic relations.

During a visit to Islamabad in November last year, the Tajik president had stressed the need for enhancing people-to-people contacts between the two countries.

Prime Minister Sharif and Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon also held one-on-one meeting and discussed ways to further strengthen bilateral relations in diverse fields.

Bilateral trade has steadily risen from $15 million in 2011 to $89 million in 2014.