The Taliban has formally communicated with India, asking for a resumption of flights between the two countries. Details about the letter dated September 7th have emerged recently, and the Indian government is said to be reviewing the situation. All commercial flights between India and Afghanistan remain suspended since the Taliban forces took over Afghanistan in August.
Taliban communicates with India’s DGCA
In a letter addressed to India’s aviation regulator, the DGCA, the acting minister of Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority Alhaj Hameedullah Akhunzada has assured that Kabul Airport has been made capable of handling commercial flights again, stating,
“…By technical assistance of our Qatar Brother, the airport became operational once again and a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) in this regard was issued on 6 September, 2021.”
The minister also requested the Indian authorities to allow flights between the two countries once again:
“The intention of this letter is to keep the smooth passenger movement between two countries based on the signed MoU and our National Carriers (Ariana Afghan Airline & Kam Air) aimed to commence their scheduled flights. Therefore, Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority requests you to facilitate their commercial flights.”
While India does not officially recognize the Taliban regime, it is said that the matter is being reviewed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation of India.
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Kabul-Delhi air link important for many
Before the Taliban takeover, Kabul and Delhi were connected through direct flights by Air India, Kam Air, Ariana Afgan Airlines, and SpiceJet. On August 16th, a Kabul-bound Air India flight couldn’t land as the airport was shut down temporarily. The last Indian flight to fly out of Kabul was on August 21st, when an Indian Air Force flight evacuated citizens to Dushanbe in Tajikistan and then back to India via an Air India flight.
The link between India and Afghanistan is important for many people. Bilateral trade between the two countries has increased to more than a billion dollars in the last 20 years. India is also the preferred destination for many Afghans seeking medical treatment. In fact, Afghans comprise up to 8-9% of the country’s total inflow of medical tourists. In particular, the greater New Delhi region is popular with patients from Afghanistan, being just a 2-hour flight away from Kabul.
The air link will also help many Afghan students wanting to study at Indian Universities. According to a report by the Hindustan Times, Taliban officials have reached out to Indian authorities to let Afghan students who have secured Indian scholarships enter the country.
Kabul airport sees some traffic
While things are far from normal at Kabul Airport, aircraft movement has gradually increased. On September 9th, Qatar Airways operated the first international flight to Kabul since the US military departed on August 30th, carrying cargo and humanitarian aid. The Boeing 777-300ER departed with around 150 passengers, mostly foreign nationals and Afghani dual citizens.
On September 13th, Pakistan International Airlines operated the first commercial flight to Kabul since the Taliban takeover. The Boeing 777 arrived on a chartered service and carried back around 100 passengers to Islamabad. On September 15th, Iran also confirmed that it had resumed scheduled flights to Afghanistan.
Domestic flights within the country also restarted on September 4th, with Ariana Afghan Airlines resuming some flights between Kabul and provincial cities of Herat, Mazar-i Sharif, and Kandahar.
While traffic at Kabul airport is picking up slowly, many of these commercial flights are chartered operations. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August, it cast a dark cloud over the future of civil aviation in the country, among other things. It seems there is still some time before international airlines can be confident enough to resume regular commercial services to the country.