A passenger takes a picture of her son while waiting at a lounge before boarding a PIA flight at the airport in Kabul on Monday. AFP
Gulf Today Report
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.
On Monday morning, a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) 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.”
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 Taliban 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 said.
Kabul airport was left trashed after foreign forces completed their chaotic withdrawal on August 30, evacuating more than 120,000 people from the country.
Last week the Qatari government flew civilian charters out of Kabul.
A spokesman for the airline said that the flight of the Pakistani state airline will carry people from Kabul to Islamabad holding valid travel documents — though it was not immediately clear if it was classified as a regular commercial flight or a special commercial charter.
Passengers stand in a queue to board on a Pakistan International Airlines plane at the airport in Kabul. AFP
The resumption of commercial flights will be a key test for the hardline group, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely.
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.
Pilots prepare to land a PIA flight at the airport in Kabul on Monday. AFP
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.
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 Sept.3.
Passengers board a PIA flight at the airport in Kabul on Monday. AFP
"This is a big moment. We are very excited," said one airport employee, dressed in a blue shalwar kameez and orange high-visibility vest.
"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.
Kabul airport was severely damaged during a chaotic evacuation of over 120,000 people that ended with the withdrawal of US forces on August 30. The Taliban have been scrambling to get it operating again with Qatari technical assistance.
Pakistan closed its consular services in Kabul on Monday, citing unspecified security concerns and an Afghan official said the government would investigate the issue,
"Our flights frequently faced undue delays because of the unprofessional attitude of the Kabul aviation authorities," PIA spokesman said. The route will remain suspended until "the situation becomes conducive," he added.
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