Technical Qatari, Turkish and Emirati teams have been working at Kabul’s airport over the past week to repair its damages.
A Qatar Airways passenger flight carrying up to 113 passengers from Kabul landed in Qatar on Thursday, the first of its kind since the Taliban takeover. Afghanistan’s airports gradually opened for international travel.
Sources familiar with the matter said that the passengers included Afghans, Americans, Canadians, Ukrainians, Germans, and British nationals. Most of the people who were on board were families.
The flight landed at the Hamad International Airport roughly [HIA] around 8 pm in Qatar and took all passengers to immigration to go through regular processing at the passport customs.
“It’s just that the plane flew, and then the next thing I knew is that we landed. I didn’t even fall asleep,” Elaha, a Canadian national, told the press at HIA.
The passengers were later taken to the compound housing Afghan evacuees in Doha, where they also did their PCR tests.
Qatar worked with parties on the ground in Afghanistan to transport travellers in a Qatari convoy and secure a safe passage to the Kabul airport to safely depart to Doha. No one from the passengers had to pay flight fares as Qatar covered all costs.
“Unfortunately, I had to leave my mother, sister and brothers in Kabul. They were sleeping, I didn’t tell them I just left, and I called them from the airport. They were happy for me that I left,” Leena, a Canadian national, told the press upon arrival.
The departure of the first passenger flight from Afghanistan signals a return to normalcy at the country’s aviation since the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August.
It also came after a Qatari official confirmed that the Hamid Karzai International Airport is about 90% ready and will gradually reopen.
Dr Mutlaq bin Majed Al Qahtani, Qatar’s Special Envoy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Counterterrorism and Mediation in Conflict Resolution, announced the airport reopening shortly after meeting with the Taliban spokesman in Kabul Zabihullah Mujahid.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported that the airport is operational for international flights from Thursday, citing Taliban officials and foreign technical teams at the Hamid Karzai International Airport.
The report added that the damages the teams had to fix at the airport amounted to at least $20 million, accusing the US marines of sabotaging the place. Qatar also donated large screens, computers, scanners, and electronic equipment needed at the airport.
The presence of the Qatari and technical teams in Afghanistan came following a request by the Taliban to repair damages at the airport to make it safe for travel once more.
In the past week, Qatar has also been sending batches of aid to Kabul to help alleviate food security concerns after discussions with the Taliban to ensure the airport is open for humanitarian assistance.
“What has been fixed is already making the airport capable of receiving charter flights. We’re starting the humanitarian aid flights as a test,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told a press conference on Tuesday.
The international community has emphasised the need to resume flights at the airport as many Afghans and foreigners wish to leave.