Pakistan airline axes Afghanistan flights after ‘heavy-handed’ Taliban ‘changed flight permissions last-minute’ and an executive was held at gunpoint for ‘helping people flee the country’
- Pakistan International Airlines suspended flights from Kabul on Thursday
- It blamed the Taliban, saying staff faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions as well as intimidating behaviour by the group’s commanders
- PIA said that in one incident, its country rep was held at gunpoint for hours
- The Taliban had warned PIA and local airline over the spiralling cost of tickets
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has suspended flights to Kabul after ‘heavy-handed’ interference by the Taliban.
The airline said on Thursday that ever since the new Taliban government was formed, its staff in Kabul had faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions and intimidating behaviour from Taliban commanders.
It said its country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours in one incident after being suspected of helping people to flee the country, and was only freed after the Pakistan embassy in Kabul intervened.
The suspension came as the Taliban government ordered the airline – the only international carrier operating regularly out of the Afghan capital – to cut ticket prices to the levels of before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August.
‘We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy-handedness of the authorities,’ a PIA spokesman said.
‘The route will remain suspended until ‘the situation becomes conducive,’ he added.
Earlier, the Taliban had warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut prices that have spiralled out of the reach of most Afghans.
PIA said on Thursday that ever since the new Taliban government was formed, its staff in Kabul had faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions and intimidating behaviour from Taliban commanders [File photo]
With most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for one-way, 40-minute flights to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have been selling for as much as $2,500 (£1,826) on PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 (£89-£110) before.
Afghanistan’s own Kam Air has been charging up to $1,600 (£1,169) for a single ticket.
The Afghan transport ministry said in a statement that prices on the route should ‘be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate’ or the flights would be stopped.
It urged passengers and others to report any violations.
Flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been severely limited since Kabul airport was reopened last month in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of more than 100,000 Westerners and vulnerable Afghans following the Taliban victory.
Abdullah, a 26 year-old employee of a pharmaceuticals company, said the PIA flights had been ‘a tiny window’ for Afghans trying to leave the country.
‘We are in bad need of these flights. The borders are closed, now if the airport is closed, it is like we are all in a cage,’ he said.
PIA, which runs chartered flights to Kabul rather than regular commercial services, said it had maintained the flights on humanitarian grounds and faced insurance premiums of as much as $400,000 (£292,326) as Kabul was treated as a war zone by insurers.
No comment was immediately available from Kam Air.
With a mounting economic crisis adding to worries about Afghanistan’s future under the Taliban, there has been heavy demand for flights out, made worse by repeated problems at land border crossings into Pakistan.
‘We are in bad need of these flights. The borders are closed, now if the airport is closed, it is like we are all in a cage,’ an Afghan pharmaceutical worker said. Pictured: Afghan passengers enter Kabul airport last month as PIA resumed flights [File photo]
The main passport office in Kabul has been besieged by people trying to get travel documents since it reopened this month.
The flights have also been used by international officials and aid workers travelling to Kabul.
Pakistan was the chief backer of the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime and has long faced US allegations that its intelligence service fuelled the Islamist insurgents.
Prime Minister’s Imran Khan’s government has called on the world to engage with the Taliban and provide economic support to the aid-dependent country which has seen funding frozen by Western donors since the takeover.
Pakistan, however, has stopped short of recognising the Taliban government – a step opposed by Western countries.
The Taliban last week closed one of its border crossings with Pakistan over the allegation that Afghan citizens were being mistreated by the Pakistani border officials.
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