Pakistan International Airlines on Monday ran the first international commercial flight to Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country, officials said.
Flight PK6429, which was chartered by the World Bank, landed in Kabul and then returned to Islamabad. The Boeing 777 carried bank officials and journalists, airline spokesman Abdullah Khan told Reuters.
“It was a special chartered commercial flight,” Khan said. “We also accommodated other individuals who wanted to leave Afghanistan since we had space on the plane.”
PIA Chief Operating Officer Arshad Malik said in a statement: “We hope that we will be able to resume a complete operation soon.”
About 70 people were aboard the flight to Pakistan, mostly Afghans who were relatives of employees with international organizations such as the World Bank, airport ground staff told Agence France-Presse.
“I am being evacuated. My final destination is Tajikistan. I will come back here only if the situation allows women to work and move freely,’ a 35-year-old World Bank evacuee, who did not want to give her name, told AFP.
A 22-year-old man 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,” the university student told the news outlet.
As passengers prepared to board, female airport personnel warily went about their duties.
“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.
The Taliban’s seizure of power has triggered a chaotic mass exodus as many Afghans fear a repeat of the brutal interpretation of Islamic law implemented during the militants’ previous rule — when girls were excluded from school, women were confined to their homes, and offenses were punishable by stoning and execution.
The Islamic militants have promised a milder form of rule this time, but have moved swiftly to crush dissent, including firing in the air to disperse recent protests by women calling for the right to education and work.
A PIA spokesman said it was too soon to say how frequently flights between the two countries would operate.
“This is a great moment for me after a long time since the change of the establishment in Kabul,” Jawad Zafar, head of operations at PIA, told AFP on Monday.
Last week, Qatar Airways operated several charter flights out of Kabul, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed out on the evacuation. An Afghan airline resumed domestic services on Sept. 3.