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Pakistan suspends flights to Kabul

Carrier cites Taliban interference as Afghans try to leave by Compiled Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | October 15, 2021 at 3:52 a.m.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A key route out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was cut off Thursday when Pakistan canceled its national carrier's flights between Islamabad and Kabul, citing disagreements with the Taliban.

Taliban authorities interfered with flight operations by repeatedly changing regulations, muddling permissions and limiting the number of people allowed on each flight, said Abdullah Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani carrier.

The suspension comes after weeks of Taliban promises to allow freedom of movement to all Afghans and restore regular international flights in and out of Kabul. The Taliban took control of Afghanistan two months ago, and after the United States completed its evacuation flights, the militant group pledged that any Afghan with valid documents would be permitted to travel abroad.

But hundreds if not thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country remain unable to do so because of border closures, limited flights and Taliban restrictions.

Pakistan International Airlines was one of two international carriers regularly flying in and out of Kabul airport. The other is Kam Air, a private Afghan airline with multiple flights a week to Islamabad. Qatar Airways also operates occasional flights between Kabul and Doha.

Khan said the decision to keep flying into Kabul had been a purely humanitarian one made "against all odds." He also said the high insurance rates required to land in Kabul made it difficult to keep the flights viable without increasing ticket prices.

A Taliban statement earlier Thursday demanded that Pakistan International Airlines and Kam Air drop ticket prices to rates seen before the militant group's takeover. Flights between Islamabad and Kabul that cost around $300 earlier this year now cost well over $1,300.

Taliban transport authorities warned that any carrier violating the new policy would have its flights blocked.

U.S. officials have repeatedly called on the Taliban to live up to its pledge to allow all Afghans freedom of movement and safe passage for those seeking to leave the country.

Meanwhile, Turkey's foreign minister on Thursday met with a high-level delegation of Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers, officials said.

The meeting in Ankara between Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban-appointed foreign minister, comes after Taliban leaders held a series of talks with the United States, 10 European nations and European Union representatives in Qatar earlier this week.

The international community has condemned some Taliban actions since their takeover. The Taliban have brought back public hangings and other brutal tactics. They have allowed girls to return to primary school but have barred them from going to high school in all but one Afghan province. Women have not been allowed to return to work.

The current, Taliban-appointed Afghan government, which the former insurgents say is only interim, is comprised solely of Taliban figures, including several blacklisted by the United Nations.

Cavusoglu, speaking after the meeting in the Turkish capital, said they discussed the flights from Kabul's airport after the Taliban requested Ankara's help on the matter. He also said Turkey had made suggestions concerning a more inclusive Afghan government as well as the education of girls under the Taliban.

"We have conveyed our expectations concerning security for the resumption of regular flights" from Kabul, Cavusoglu said. "Today we told them once again that they must be inclusive for the country's unity and solidarity."

"We shared some recommendations on the subject of educating women, children, girls and women joining the workforce," Cavusoglu said. "We said, don't see this as a precondition from the West or as their demand. We recommended that they see this as an expectation from the Muslim world and other Muslim countries."

The Turkish minister said he also discussed the Taliban's inability to access Afghanistan's foreign funds, saying Turkey believes that countries that have frozen Afghanistan's foreign accounts should show "more flexibility" to allow salaries to be paid.

Aid organizations warn the nation of nearly 40 million people faces total poverty and hunger as winter approaches.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a virtual meeting Thursday between the Group of 20 most powerful economies that the international community should keep the channels of dialogue with the Taliban open, to "patiently and gradually steer" them toward establishing a more inclusive government.

Information for this article was contributed by Susannah George and Ezzatullah Mehrdad of The Washington Post; and by Suzan Fraser, Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed of The Associated Press.

Print Headline: Pakistan suspends flights to Kabul


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