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Passengers board a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight at Kabul airport © AFP / Aamir QURESHI

Afghanistan

Pakistan’s PIA suspends Kabul flights over ‘unprofessional’ Taliban

Karachi, Pakistan, Oct 14 – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said on Thursday it had suspended flights to Kabul over the “unprofessional attitude” of Taliban authorities.

PIA resumed special flights to the country after the Taliban seized power in mid-August, and was a lifeline for many Afghans trying to flee the new regime and economic crisis.

“Our flights frequently faced undue delays because of the unprofessional attitude of the Kabul aviation authorities,” Abdullah Hafeez Khan, the PIA spokesman told AFP.

The route will remain suspended until “the situation becomes conducive,” he added.

A source at the airline told AFP Taliban officials were often “derogatory” and on one occasion “physically manhandled” a staff member.

PIA had faced criticism for charging more than $1,200 for a one-way, 40-minute flight from Kabul to Islamabad.

The special flights have been used mostly by NGOs and charities, some of which have helped at-risk Afghans to flee, but have been irregular and tickets difficult to purchase for ordinary passengers.

But the airline said the flight operation was “not very lucrative financially” and it was only operating flights on “humanitarian grounds”.

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“We would pay more than $400,000 as insurance premium which could only be possible if 300 passengers are available,” Khan said.

The price was around $150 before the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban had earlier threatened to block half of the airline’s flights if the ticket price was not slashed.

But Afghanistan’s own Kam Air has been charging up to $1,600 for a single ticket.

Facilities at Kabul airport were badly damaged in the chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 people that ended on August 30 with the withdrawal of the last US troops.

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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