Pakistani plane lands in Kabul in first commercial flight since Taliban takeover

The resumption of commercial flights will be a key test for the Taliban


AFP September 13, 2021
A Pakistan International Airlines plane, the first international commercial flight to land since the Taliban takeover, lands at the Kabul airport on Sept. 13, 2021. AFP

KABUL:

An international commercial flight left Kabul on Monday, the first since the Taliban retook power last month, offering some hope to Afghans still desperate to leave the country.

The Afghan capital's airport was left trashed after US-led forces finished a chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 people, and the Taliban have since scrambled to get it operational with technical assistance from Qatar and other nations.

On Monday morning, a Pakistan International Airlines jet touched down in Kabul, before making a return flight to Islamabad.

Around 70 people were on the flight to the Pakistani capital, mostly Afghans who were relatives of staffers with international organisations such as the World Bank, according to airport ground staff.

"I am being evacuated. My final destination is Tajikistan," said a 35-year-old World Bank evacuee, who did not want to give her name.

"I will come back here only if the situation allows women to work and move freely."

Kabul's international airport

Kabul's international airport AFP

A 22-year-old university student said he was taking a one-month trip to Pakistan.

"It's like a vacation. I am sad and happy. Sad about the country, but happy to leave for some time," he said.

The resumption of commercial flights will be a key test for the hardline Islamist group, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely.

As passengers prepared to board, airport staff went about their duties, although working under the new regime is marred by fear and confusion for women.

"I don't know if we will be killed or not for working here," one of two women handling the security scanning machine told AFP.

'Great moment' 

Many NATO nations admitted that they had run out of time to evacuate thousands of at-risk Afghans before the withdrawal deadline -- agreed between the United States and the Taliban.

A PIA spokesman said at the weekend that the airline was keen to resume regular commercial services, but it was too soon to say how frequently flights between the two capitals would operate.

The resumption of commercial flights is a key test for the Taliban, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely

The resumption of commercial flights is a key test for the Taliban, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely Bulent KILIC AFP

Jawad Zafar, the head of operations at PIA, told AFP on Monday: "This is a great moment for me after a long time since the change of the establishment in Kabul."

AFP staff observed only a handful of people on the flight from Islamabad to Kabul.

Qatar Airways operated several charter flights out of Kabul last week, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed out on the evacuation.

An Afghan airline resumed domestic services on September 3.

"This is a big moment. We are very excited," said one airport employee.

"It's a hopeful day. Maybe other airlines will see this and decide to come back."

Tens of thousands of Afghans fear reprisals for helping foreign powers during the 20-year US-led occupation, but the Taliban insist they have granted a general amnesty to everyone -- including the security forces they fought against.

The Taliban have promised a milder form of rule this time, but have moved swiftly to crush dissent, including firing in the air to disperse recent protests by women calling for the right to education and work.

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