Security

Pakistan International Airlines suspends Kabul flights over 'unprofessional' Taliban

By Pakistan Forward and AFP

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Passengers board a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight, the first commercial international flight since the Taliban retook power last month, in Kabul September 13. One month later, PIA announced a halt in flights to Kabul due to the Taliban's 'unprofessional' behaviour. [Aamir Qureshi/AFP]

KARACHI -- Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Thursday (October 14) said it had suspended flights to Kabul over the "unprofessional attitude" of Taliban authorities.

PIA resumed special flights to the country after the Taliban seized power in mid-August, and was a lifeline for many Afghans trying to flee the new regime and economic crisis.

"Our flights frequently faced undue delays because of the unprofessional attitude of the Kabul aviation authorities," Abdullah Hafeez Khan, the PIA spokesman, told AFP.

The route will remain suspended until "the situation becomes conducive", he added.

'Derogatory' Taliban

A source at the airline told AFP Taliban officials were often "derogatory" and on one occasion "physically manhandled" a staff member.

PIA had faced criticism for charging more than $1,200 for a one-way, 40-minute flight from Kabul to Islamabad.

The special flights have been used mostly by NGOs and charities, some of which have helped at-risk Afghans to flee, but have been irregular with difficulties for ordinary passengers in purchasing tickets.

But the airline said the flight operation was "not very lucrative financially" and it was operating flights only on "humanitarian grounds".

The airfare was about $150 before the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban had earlier threatened to block half of the airline's flights if it did not reduce the ticket price.

Afghanistan's own Kam Air has been charging up to $1,600 for a single ticket.

Facilities at Kabul airport were badly damaged during the evacuation of more than 120,000 people that ended on August 30 with the withdrawal of the last US troops.

On September 26, the Taliban urged international airlines to resume flights to Kabul, saying all technical issues at the country's main airport have been resolved.

Services at Kabul airport were restored mostly with technical help from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

Only charter flights

Only charter flights have been operating, although PIA, Iran's Mahan Air and Kam Air have run a limited number of special flights.

The Iranian regime has been using Mahan Air, which is partially owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), to transport weapons, military equipment and foreign fighters throughout the Middle East and beyond in support of its expansionist agenda.

The airline also continued to operate dozens of flights between Tehran and China during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, in January and February 2020, making it a key vector in the massive outbreak of coronavirus in Iran and in the consequent spread of the deadly virus throughout the region.

The Taliban hope proper commercial services will resume shortly at Kabul airport, said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, newly appointed spokesman for the Taliban's foreign ministry.

"Many Afghan citizens were stuck outside and unable to return to their homeland," he said in a statement.

"Moreover, many Afghan citizens who have international employment or pursue education abroad are now facing difficulties in reaching their destinations."

Despite promises to allow anyone who wants to leave Afghanistan to do so, the Taliban have hindered many citizens seeking to flee during the past two months.

The international community is keen to hold the Taliban to their word before resuming commercial flights.

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