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A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Islamabad touched down in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday before making a return flight to the Pakistani capital in the first international commercial flight since the Taliban takeover.
The Pakistani state airline flight from Islamabad carrying a handful of passengers landed at the Kabul airport, which was severely damaged during a chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 people ahead of the August 31 deadline for US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“There was hardly anyone on the plane, around 10 people… maybe more staff than passengers,” said an AFP journalist aboard the PIA flight from Islamabad.
Hours later, the plane made a return flight back to the Pakistani capital with around 70 people on board, according to airport ground staff.
The passengers on the flight to Islamabad were mostly Afghans, including relatives of staffers with international organisations such as the World Bank,
“I am being evacuated. My final destination is Tajikistan,” said a 35-year-old World Bank evacuee, who did not want to give her name.
“I will come back here only if the situation allows women to work and move freely.”
A 22-year-old university student said he was taking a one-month trip to Pakistan.
“It’s like a vacation. I am sad and happy. Sad about the country, but happy to leave for some time,” he said.
The resumption of commercial flights will be a key test for the Taliban, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely.
Many NATO nations admitted that they had run out of time to evacuate thousands of at-risk Afghans before the August 31 deadline, which was agreed between the US and the Taliban.
A PIA spokesman said over the weekend that the airline was keen to resume regular commercial services, but it was too soon to say how frequently flights between the two capitals would operate.
Qatar Airways operated several charter flights out of Kabul last week, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed the evacuation.
An Afghan airline resumed domestic services on September 3.
A ‘hopeful day’
“This is a big moment. We are very excited,” said one airport employee, dressed in a blue shalwar kameez and orange high-visibility vest.
“It’s a hopeful day. Maybe other airlines will see this and decide to come back.”
A bus painted with a “Welcome to Afghanistan” was waiting to ferry the passengers from the plane to the terminal, but in the end the new arrivals walked.
Passenger halls, airbridges and technical infrastructure were badly damaged in the days after the Taliban rolled into Kabul on August 15, when thousands of people stormed the airport in the hope of fleeing.
Tens of thousands of Afghans fear reprisals for helping foreign powers during the 20-year US-led occupation, but the Taliban insist they have granted a general amnesty to everyone — including the security forces they fought against.
Taliban issue education restrictions for women
While the Taliban have promised a milder form of rule this time, the hardline Islamist group has moved swiftly to crush dissent, including firing in the air to disperse recent protests by women calling for the right to education and work.
Sunday, the Taliban higher education minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, laid out the new policies at a news conference, several days after Afghanistan’s new rulers formed an all-male government.
Restrictions on female university students include compulsory hijabs although Haqqani did not specify if this meant compulsory headscarves or also compulsory face coverings.
Gender segregation will also be enforced, he said. “We will not allow boys and girls to study together,” he said. “We will not allow co-education.”
Haqqani said the subjects being taught would also be reviewed. While he did not elaborate, he said he wanted graduates of Afghanistan’s universities to be competitive with university graduates in the region and the rest of the world.
In an interview on Afghanistan’s leading Tolo News, Taliban spokesman Syed Zekrullah Hashmi said last week that women should give birth and raise children. While the Taliban have not ruled out the eventual participation of women in government, the spokesman said “it’s not necessary that women be in the cabinet.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)