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PIA suspends Afghan operations citing ‘security operations’

PIA suspends Afghan operations citing Taliban interference. (Source: APP)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on Thursday suspended flights to the Afghanistan capital, Kabul, immediately citing “security reasons”.

Abdullah Khan, the national carrier’s spokesperson, confirmed the development, saying that Kabul operations of the airline will remain suspended until further notice.

The spokesperson emphasised the fact that the PIA had kept flying in and out of Kabul under “difficult circumstances” when all other airlines had ceased their operations.

“The PIA evacuated around 3,000 people after the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan,” said the PIA spokesperson, adding that among the people flown out of Kabul were officials of the United Nations, World Bank, the IMF, other global organisations as well as international journalists.

However, according to Reuters, Pakistan International Airlines suspended flights after what it called “heavy-handed” interference by Taliban authorities, including arbitrary rule changes and intimidation of staff.

The suspension came as the Taliban government ordered the airline to cut ticket prices to levels seen before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government. “We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today because of the heavy-handedness of the authorities,” a spokesman said.

Earlier, the Taliban warned PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut ticket prices, which have reached levels increasingly out of reach for most Afghans.

With most international airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for flights to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have been selling for as much as $2,500 on PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before.

The Afghan transport ministry said, in a statement, 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.

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.