Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Thursday suspended flights to Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, over what the state-run carrier alleged was “heavy-handed” interference by the neighboring country’s ruling Taliban.
The suspension came on the same day a Taliban Transport Ministry statement warned it will stop PIA flight operations between Islamabad and the Afghan capital unless the airline reduces ticket prices to the levels that existed before mid-August, when the Islamist group took control of the country.
The statement also ordered Afghan airlines Kam Air to reduce fares on the Kabul-Islamabad route to previous levels or face a halt to their flight operations.
“We have suspended our flights (between Islamabad and Kabul) indefinitely,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan told VOA on Thursday.
“The decision has been taken due to an inappropriate behavior by the local (Taliban) administration and inadequate conditions for flight operations,” Khan said.
He explained that PIA was flying charter flights out of Kabul on “purely humanitarian grounds,” and it was the only international airline linking the Afghan capital through Pakistan to the rest of the world.
“Information has been conveyed to PIA and Kam Air private company to reduce the fare on the Kabul-Islamabad route to the level prior to the victory of the Islamic Emirate. If the airlines do not agree to this proposal, their operations on the route will be stopped,” the Taliban said in the statement.
Both PIA and Kam Air operate chartered flights with high fares, citing high insurance costs as the reason for not resuming commercial operations.
PIA had been flying regular commercial flights between Islamabad and Kabul until the Taliban takeover of the country in August, and passengers were being charged up to $200 for a return ticket.
With most international airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, PIA-chartered flights out of Kabul are charging $1,500 for a one-way ticket to Islamabad.
PIA officials have complained that their staff in Kabul have faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions and "highly intimidating behavior" from Taliban commanders. They alleged the airline’s country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours at one point and was freed only after the Pakistan Embassy intervened.
Taliban officials have not yet commented on the allegations leveled by PIA officials.
The United Nations, while responding to the suspension of PIA flights, stressed the need for the Kabul airport to function smoothly.
"Look, it's critical that Kabul airport and other airports in Afghanistan be running up to international standards, that international airlines feel comfortable to operate there," U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Mansoor Ahmed Khan, said his government has approached the Taliban to urge them “to take cognizance of the ground realities for operation of airlines in the current challenging situation & the rationale for prevailing fares due to insurance costs.”
He underlined the importance of flight operations for facilitating movement of people between the two countries, hoping the Afghan side will address the matter soon.
VOA’s United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.