Taliban now control Kabul airport. Will commercial airlines be allowed to operate?

Ever since the US announced that it is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, the Kabul airport has been a nerve centre of activity, witnessing a frenzied, chaotic evacuation.

For the past couple of weeks, the US military had secured the Hamid Karzai International Airport with nearly 6,000 troops. On Tuesday, as the last of the troops departed, the Taliban triumphantly marched into Kabul airport. In a show of strength, Taliban leaders flanked by their elite Badri unit posed on the tarmac and declared victory. They also pledged to secure the country, quickly reopen the airport, and grant amnesty to former opponents.

But with the Taliban now having taken control of the airport, speculations are rife about how operations will be run and who will take care of the logistics involved.

According to a Reuters report, the Taliban are holding talks with governments in Qatar and Turkey to seek assistance to continue civilian flight operations.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that repairs need to be made at Kabul airport before it can be reopened to civilian flights.

Managing security and operational logistics

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera that they are now working on securing and operating the airport.

“Our fighters and special forces are capable of controlling the airport and we do not need anyone’s help for the security and administrative control of the Kabul airport,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP on Monday.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that it was “essentially giving the airport back to the Afghan people”.

Since complex logistical operations are involved in running an airport, the Taliban may find the task challenging now as thousands of skilled workers have fled the war-torn country.

The Taliban had asked Turkey to handle logistical operations while they look after airport security but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was still assessing the offer, Al Jazeera reported.

But will airlines be allowed to operate freely in and out of Afghanistan?

The Taliban have said that the airport will be kept open and Afghans will have the option to enter and exit the country freely.

Taliban chief negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai has said those with passports and visas can go abroad “in a dignified manner and with peace of mind” as soon as commercial flight services resume.

The UN Security Council has adopted a resolution urging the Taliban to honour a commitment to let people leave Afghanistan while US President Joe Biden has said that the Taliban would be responsible to uphold their pledge to provide safe passage to everyone who wants to leave the country.

But the situation on the ground remains far more complex.

Reports by Al Jazeera and AFP stated that the Kabul airport now bears testimony to the chaos and carnage that reigned supreme for the last few days, with halls and terminal buildings trashed, seats and ATM machines broken, and critical infrastructure, including air traffic control terminals, completely destroyed.

Repairing the damaged infrastructure will take considerable time and effort.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said that the airport no longer has air traffic control services, and US civilian aircraft have been prohibited from flying into Afghan airspace now.

A fully functional airport with people being allowed to enter and exit Afghanistan can help the Taliban’s international image and help it gain legitimacy from foreign governments. But commercial airlines from other countries will also need guarantees — about security and foolproof logistical operations — to operate from the Kabul airport.

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