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PIA suspends flights operation to Kabul

The national flag carrier complains of heavy-handed attitude of Taliban commanders

ISLAMABAD: Outraged by “an unprofessional and heavy-handed attitude” of the new Taliban government in Afghanistan, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) announced on Thursday the suspension of its flights to Kabul.

The Pakistani national flag carrier said 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 added that the Afghan civil aviation officials took arbitrary decisions instead of complying with international rules and regulations. In one incident, the PIA country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours and was only freed after the Pakistan embassy in Kabul intervened.

“We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy-handedness of the authorities,” the PIA spokesperson said.

Spokesperson Abdullah Khan also said that the decision to continue flights to Kabul was taken purely on humanitarian grounds and at the insistence of friendly organisations but added that now it became difficult for PIA to fly to Kabul.

After the Taliban took over the government in Afghanistan, PIA was the only international airline to continue flight operations to Kabul. The PIA also helped evacuate about 3,000 people from Kabul through special flights.

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 as Kabul was treated as a war zone by insurers.

“It’s very disappointing that the rules and regulations change for every flight,” the PIA spokesperson said. “The insurance premium on these flights is so high that it is almost impossible for Kabul to operate scheduled flights,” he added.

Fare cut

The decision of flights suspension came as the Afghan authorities had ordered the PIA to operate flights with 50% fewer passengers. The PIA officials requested for the withdrawal of the orders but the Afghan officials rejected the plea, according to the sources.

Earlier, the Taliban warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut the fares that have spiralled out of the reach of most Afghans, to the level during the western-backed government in Kabul.

An official notification issued on Thursday from the Afghan Transport ministry said that it received “scores of complaints” that the PIA and the Kam Air were charging Rs200,000 and $2,700 respectively for a two-way ticket between Islamabad and Kabul.

The ministry said in a statement that the prices on the route should “be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate”. It added: “We demand PIA, Kam airlines to restore the previous rates of the tickets or they would be banned from landing in Afghanistan.”

The statement, carried on the twitter account of the Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, urged the “passengers and clients” to “assist the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation in case of violation and increase in tickets and share their documents with them”.

Ahmed Mukhtar Naqshbandi

Media person and communication expert for over 25 years. Worked with Dow Jones News, World Bank, CNBC Pakistan, Aaj TV, ARY TV, Abbtakk TV, Business Recorder, Pakistan Observer, Online News Network, TTI Magazine and other local and world Publications.

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