By Ayaz Gul
Afghanistan’s Taliban government Sunday asked foreign airlines to resume commercial flights to and from Kabul, saying problems at the capital city’s airport had been resolved and the facility “is fully operational.”
The Islamist group regained control of the war-torn country in mid-August following the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government as American and allied troops withdrew from Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of involvement in the conflict.
The Kabul airport was closed for all commercial flights in the wake of the emergency evacuation of tens of thousands of foreigners and vulnerable Afghans that ensued after the Taliban takeover of the capital.
The airport, which was damaged during the chaotic evacuation, has since been reopened for a limited number of aid and chartered passenger flights with technical assistance mainly from Qatar.
“As the problems at Kabul International Airport have been resolved and the airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, the IEA assures all airlines of its full cooperation,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the newly appointed spokesman for the Taliban Foreign Ministry.
Balkhi used an abbreviation for Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s term for their new government. The spokesman noted that the suspension of international flights had left many Afghan citizens stranded.
“[A] majority of these Afghans are women, children, students, patients, and traders who need to travel freely. Moreover, many Afghan citizens who have international employment or pursue education abroad are now facing difficulties in reaching their destinations,” Balkhi said.
There was no immediate reaction to the Taliban’s call for foreign airlines to resume flight operations.
A spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA,) when asked for a response, told VOA the state-run carrier is ready to restart commercial flights from Islamabad to Kabul but conditions on the ground are still demanding and “insurance rates are too high” to undertake the operation.
The Taliban’s appeal for foreign airlines to resume their flights comes amid stepped up diplomatic efforts by the Islamist group to seek international legitimacy for its nascent men-only caretaker government that is grappling with a severe economic crisis and has been criticized for excluding women.
The Islamist movement’s return to power prompted Washington to block billions of dollars held in U.S. reserves for Kabul, while the World Bank and International Monetary Fund both halted Afghanistan’s access to crucial funding amid worries about the fate of Afghan basic human rights under Taliban rule.
The global community at large has not opened direct engagement with the Taliban, saying it is waiting to see if the fundamentalist movement respects human rights and runs Afghanistan through an inclusive government unlike their previous rule from 1996 to 2001.
The Taliban at the time had enforced a brutal justice system, barred women from work and public life, and didn’t allow girls to receive an education. But they have promised to demonstrate a more tolerant governance and respect human rights, especially for women, and prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for international terrorists.
China, Russia and neighboring Pakistan have all moved to engage with the Taliban and been pressing the world to help Kabul meet urgent humanitarian needs of Afghans.
These countries have demanded the unfreezing of Afghan assets and the removal of other sanctions to prevent an economic meltdown in the turmoil-hit country. But they also have withheld recognition of the Taliban government until it delivers on its stated commitments.
The Chinese ambassador to Kabul met Sunday with the acting Taliban foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, and renewed Beijing’s call for helping the country.
In post-meeting tweet, Balkhi said that Ambassador Wang Yu “emphasized the need for humanitarian assistance and cooperation with Afghanistan and enhancing trade between the two countries.”
On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the United Nations that international recognition of the Taliban “at the present juncture is not on the table.” He said the government in Kabul fails to reflect “the whole gamut of Afghan society — ethno-religious and political forces — so we are engaging in contacts, they are ongoing.”
Lavrov noted that Moscow, Washington, Beijing and Islamabad are working collectively to hold the Taliban to the promises they made.
“What’s most important … is to ensure that the promises that they have proclaimed publicly [are] to be kept,” said the chief Russian diplomat. “And for us, that is the top priority.”
For their part, Taliban officials have defended their government, saying it comprises representatives of all Afghan ethnicities and promising women will be inducted into it “very soon.” But they have pledged not to make any changes in the Cabinet under foreign pressure.