The first international commercial flight since the end of last month’s chaotic Western airlift from Afghanistan left Kabul airport on Thursday (September 9) with more than 100 passengers on board, officials said. As well as offering hope to people still stranded in Afghanistan and fearful of the new Taliban government, the event marked an important step in the Islamist group’s efforts to bring a degree of normality back to a country facing economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis.
“We managed to fly the first plane with passengers just an hour ago,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in Islamabad, thanking Taliban leaders for helping reopen the airport. About 113 passengers were on board, including US, Canadian, Ukrainian, German and British citizens, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
The flight, operated by state-owned Qatar Airways, later landed at Doha’s Hamad International Airport, Al Jazeera news channel reported. The source said the passengers were taken to Kabul airport in a Qatari convoy after safe passage was agreed. In Doha, they will initially stay in a compound hosting Afghan and other evacuees.
Although international flights have flown in and out with officials, technicians and aid in recent days, this was the first such civilian flight since the hectic evacuation of 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans that followed the Taliban`s seizure of the capital on Aug. 15. Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani described Thursday`s flight as a regular one and not an evacuation. There would also be a flight on Friday (September 10), he said.
“Call it what you want, a charter or a commercial flight, everyone has tickets and boarding passes,” al-Qahtani said from the tarmac, quoted by Al Jazeera. “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan.” Reuters could not immediately confirm if any Afghan nationals who did not have a passport from a second country were onboard.
The flight came two days after the Taliban announced an interim government made up of men, including Islamist hardliners and some wanted by the United States on terrorism charges. Foreign countries saw the new government`s make-up as a signal the Taliban would not try to broaden their base and show a more tolerant face as they had suggested they would do.
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