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Afghanistan: Pakistan International Airlines suspends flights from Kabul

Pakistan's national airline has canceled flights to Afghanistan after the Taliban demanded that it lower prices. The airline said it had been operating purely on "humanitarian grounds."

A Pakistan International Airlines plane carrying a handful of passengers at Kabul airport

PIA was the first airline to resume commercial flights out of Kabul after the Taliban took control

Pakistan International Airline (PIA) said on Thursday that it had ceased flights to Kabul following what it called an "unprofessional attitude" from the Taliban.

PIA, as well as Afghanistan's own Kam Air, had been criticized after they began charging over $1,000 (€860) for one-way, short flights out of the Afghan capital.

The Pakistani airline's decision came shortly after Taliban authorities demanded that the two airlines slash their prices.

"We have suspended our flight operations from today," said Abdullah Hafeez Khan, a PIA spokesperson, citing "security concerns" and the "heavy-handedness of the Taliban."

Insurance costs through the roof

Pakistan's national carrier increased the cost of a one-way ticket from Kabul to Islamabad — a 40-minute journey — to $1,600 after it resumed flights in mid-August. The price before the Taliban took control had been around $150.

The airline defended the price hike, saying that the route had not been "very lucrative financially."

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"We would pay more than $400,000 as insurance premium, which could only be possible if 300 passengers are available," Khan said.

The flights had mostly been serving NGOs and at-risk locals who were seeking to flee, on "humanitarian grounds," the spokesperson added.

Afghanistan's Civil Aviation Authority released a statement earlier in the day telling PIA and Kam Air to "adjust the price of their flight tickets from Kabul to Islamabad to be in line with the prices before the [Taliban's] victory."

It went on to warn that, if the airlines continued their "violation," the route would be closed.

The Kabul-Islamabad connection

Connections between Kabul and Islamabad had been one of the few options left to leave Afghanistan after Western forces ended their evacuations in August.

A member of the ground crew gives signals to the pilot of a plane at Kabul International Airport in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan

Kabul's airport suffered damage during evacuations carried out by Western forces

The surge in prices for flights coincided with the Taliban's closing one of the border crossings with Pakistan following reports that Afghans were being mistreated by Pakistani border guards.

Pakistan is considered to be close to the Taliban. Prime Minister Imran Khan has called on western donors to engage with the ultraconservative militants and continue to provide aid.

But Islamabad has not yet recognized the new Taliban government in Kabul, despite pressure from powerful Islamist factions within Pakistan. However, Pakistan was one of the few countries to maintain official relations with the Taliban last time they were in power, in the 1990s.

ab/wmr (dpa, AFP, Reuters)