A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane carrying a handful of passengers has touched down at Kabul airport, the first international commercial flight to land since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan last month.
“There was hardly anyone on the plane, around 10 people … maybe more staff than passengers,” an AFP news agency’s journalist on board the flight from Islamabad said on Monday.
It was not immediately clear if the PIA flight was classified as a regular commercial flight or a special commercial charter.
A PIA spokesman said at the weekend 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.
“This is a great moment for me after a long time since the change of the establishment in Kabul,” Jawad Zafar, the head of operations at PIA, told AFP on Monday.
Kabul airport was severely damaged during a chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 people that ended with the withdrawal of US forces on August 30.
Passenger halls, air bridges 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.
The Taliban has been scrambling to get the airport operating again with technical assistance from Qatar and other nations.
The resumption of commercial flights will be a key test for the group, who have repeatedly promised to allow Afghans with the right documents to leave the country freely.
Qatar Airways operated several charter flights out of Kabul last week, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed out on the evacuation.
An Afghan airline resumed domestic services on September 3.
‘I am being evacuated’
The PIA jet made a return flight to Islamabad shortly after landing in Kabul on Monday.
Around 70 people were on the flight to the Pakistani capital, mostly Afghans who were relatives of staffers with international organisations such as the World Bank, according to airport ground staff.
“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.
As passengers prepared to board, airport staff went about their duties, although working under the new regime is marred by fear and confusion for women.
“I don’t know if we will be killed or not for working here,” one of two women handling the security scanning machine told AFP.