By Syed Raza Hassan
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on Thursday suspended flights to the Afghan capital, Kabul, after what it called brutal interference by Taliban authorities, including arbitrary rule changes and staff intimidation.
The suspension came as the Taliban government ordered the airline, the only international airline operating regularly out of Kabul, to lower fares to a level seen before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August.
“We are suspending our flight operations to Kabul from today due to the harsh hand of the authorities,” a spokesman said.
Earlier, the Taliban PIA and the Afghan airline Kam Air warned that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to lower fares, which have risen to levels out of reach for most Afghans.
As most airlines no longer fly to Afghanistan, airline tickets to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, have sold for as much as $ 2,500 at PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared to $ 120- $ 150 before.
The Afghan Ministry of Transport said in a statement that the prices of the route “should be adjusted to match the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirates” or the flights would be stopped.
It urged passengers and others to report any violations.
Flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been severely restricted since Kabul airport reopened last month in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of more than 100,000 Westerners and vulnerable Afghans following the Taliban victory.
The PIA, which operates chartered flights to Kabul instead of regular commercial services, said it had maintained the flights on “humanitarian grounds” and faced insurance premiums of as much as $ 400,000 per year. Flight.
“The insurance premiums on these flights are so high that it is simply impossible to operate scheduled flights to Kabul as it is still considered a war zone by aviation insurance companies and associate professors,” the company said in a statement.
No comments were immediately available from Kam Air.
The PIA said that ever since the new Taliban government was formed, its staff in Kabul had been at the last minute subjected to changes in rules and flight permits and “highly intimidating behavior” by Taliban leaders.
It said its national representative had at one point been held under firearms and was only released after the Pakistani embassy in Kabul intervened.
With a growing economic crisis adding to concerns about Afghanistan’s future under the Taliban, there has been strong demand for flights out, exacerbated by repeated problems at land border crossings to Pakistan. The main passport office in Kabul has been besieged by people who have been trying to get travel documents since it reopened this month.
The flights have also been used by international officials and aid workers traveling to Kabul.
(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan, Written by James Mackenzie; Edited by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)
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