First PIA’s chartered commercial flight makes round trip of Kabul since Taliban takeover
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Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Monday ran its first commercial flight to Kabul, Afghanistan, since the Taliban took over the country last month, a spokesman for the airline said.
The Boeing 777 with the flight number PK 6429 departed from Islamabad, Pakistan, as a commercial flight chartered by the World Bank, carrying officials from the bank and journalists, airline spokesman Abdullah H. Khan said. The aircraft later returned to Islamabad.
This was the first PIA flight to touch down in Kabul after the foreign troop withdrawal and large-scale evacuation of people from Afghanistan ended on August 31.
“It was a special chartered commercial flight,” Khan said. “We also accommodated other individuals who wanted to leave Afghanistan since we had space on the plane.”
He added that it was a commercial flight that operated through regular airport infrastructure, which had been restored. "This operation is very important for the PIA and the whole world," PIA's Chief Operating Officer Arshad Malik said in a statement. “We hope that we will be able to resume a complete operation soon,” he said.
Around 70 people were on the flight to Islamabad, 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, 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.
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.
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."
Passenger halls, air bridges and technical infrastructure were badly damaged in the days after the Taliban rolled into Kabul on August 15, when thousands of people stormed the airport in the hope of fleeing.
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.