Not just flights, Taliban wants scholarships to resume too. India is in no hurry
NEW DELHI: The Taliban setup in Kabul has been reaching out to the Indian side to explore the continuation of contacts in different fields, ranging from the resumption of commercial flights to scholarships for Afghan students, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.
These contacts have come at a time when the Indian government has indicated it is in no hurry to recognise the interim cabinet created by the Taliban, which is dominated by hardliners and members of the UN-designated Haqqani Network. The people cited above said on condition of anonymity that there had been no formal response to any of the Taliban proposals.
The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority, which is now controlled by the so-called “Islamic Emirate” of the Taliban, sent a formal communication to India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on September 7 regarding the resumption of commercial flights between the two countries from Kabul airport.
The letter, addressed to DGCA chief Arun Kumar and signed by “acting minister” Hameedullah Akhunzada, contended that the Kabul airport was “damaged and [made] dysfunctional” by American troops before their withdrawal last month. The airport has been made operational again with aid from Qatar and a NOTAM or “notice to airmen” in this regard had been issued on September 6, the letter added.
“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,” the letter said.
In recent days, Taliban officials such as acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi have reached out to the Indian side through intermediaries to take up issues such as travel by Afghan students who have secured scholarships offered by the Indian government, the people cited above said.
Muttaqi was reportedly keen that Afghan students holding Indian scholarships, including those awarded for the 2021 academic session, should be allowed to travel to the country.
The people said the Indian side is in no hurry to take a call on recognising the Taliban setup or to respond to the messages from the Taliban, especially at a time when no other country has established official relations with the dispensation in Kabul.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently cautioned the world community not to rush on the issue of recognising the new setup in Kabul because the change of power in Afghanistan was “not inclusive” and was done “without negotiation”.
State-run Air India stopped flights to Kabul on August 15, when the Taliban marched into the Afghan capital following the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government. The Afghan airspace was declared “uncontrolled” on August 16.
On Sunday, the Taliban-run foreign ministry called for the resumption of international flights, promising full cooperation with airlines and insisting that all problems at Kabul airport had been resolved. The appeal was part of the Taliban’s efforts to open up Afghanistan and gain international acceptance.
“As the problems at Kabul international airport have been resolved and the airport is fully operational for domestic and international flights, the [Islamic Emirate] assures all airlines of its full cooperation,” foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said.
A limited number of aid and passenger flights have been operating from Kabul, but normal commercial services are yet to resume. On September 13, state-run Pakistan International Airlines became the first airline to fly a passenger flight in and out of Kabul in about a month.