Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare
Pakistan International Airline has suspended flights to Kabul. It has not yet announced whether and when it is going to resume its Afghanistan flights. (AFP/File)
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Updated 17 October 2021

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare

Afghans demand resumption of Pakistan flights at pre-Taliban fare
  • Taliban order airline to adjust its ticket prices for Kabul-Islamabad flights
  • Travel to Pakistan crucial for many Afghans in need of lifesaving treatment that is unavailable in Afghanistan

KABUL: Afghan citizens and government officials said on Saturday they are hopeful Pakistan International Airlines would soon resume its Kabul operations at the cheaper fares it offered before the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.

PIA resumed special flights from Kabul to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, after the Taliban seized power in mid-August, serving as a lifeline for many Afghans trying to flee the new regime and economic crisis or seek treatment in Pakistan, as they used to before.

But with most airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for PIA flights have spiraled out of the reach of most Afghans, selling for as much as $2,500, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared with $120-$150 before the Taliban takeover.

Earlier this week, the Taliban Transportation Ministry issued a statement ordering the airline to “adjust the price of tickets for Kabul-Islamabad flights to the ticket standard set before the victory of the Islamic Emirate.” Otherwise, the ministry said, “they will not be permitted to run their operations from Kabul airport.”

Following the statement, PIA said it had suspended flights to Kabul over the “unprofessional attitude” of Taliban authorities.

“We hope PIA will understand and act according to the demand of Islamic Emirate Transport and Aviation Ministry,” Bilal Karimi, spokesman and member of the Taliban cultural commission, told Arab News on Saturday.

“What we are looking for is to provide the means to ordinary Afghans who want to go to Pakistan but who do not have the budget to do so.”

Ordinary Afghans are hopeful that flights will soon be available at affordable fares. For some, travel to Pakistan is necessary for lifesaving treatment that in many cases is unavailable in Afghanistan, where healthcare infrastructure is largely fragile and inadequate for more complex medical interventions.

Abdul Ali Hussaini arrived in Kabul last week to bring his injured brother to Pakistan for urgent surgery after a deadly Daesh attack in the northern city of Kunduz on Oct. 8.

“I brought my brother to Kabul after the attack occurred. He is in an emergency hospital. The doctors told me that for further treatment he should be transferred to Pakistan,” he told Arab News. “The suspension of flights and the high rate of tickets are a problem. We hope that flights resume and that we can buy tickets at a cheaper price.”

Ataullah, 35, arrived in Kabul from Helmand province to travel with his mother, a leukemia patient, for urgent treatment in Pakistan.

“I was asked $2,500 for each ticket,” he said. “I tried very hard to get my mother to Pakistan as soon as possible. I do not know what to do. I am hoping for a miracle.”

Mohammed Rashad from Kabul said he had received a scholarship from an Italian university but had been unable to travel due to PIA’s impossibly high flight prices.

“I have 15 days to go to Islamabad and, from there, travel to Italy,” the 26-year-old told Arab News. “I will miss this opportunity.”

Sayed, who works for a foreign agency in Afghanistan, wants to leave the country with his family and is now trying to reach Islamabad. Still, the blocking of PIA flights to Kabul has posed a serious challenge to him.

“One of the embassies operating in Islamabad has sent my family and me our visas. They asked me to come to Pakistan within a week,” he said. “The delay in my trip to Pakistan has now become a major problem for us and has multiplied my security fears here in Kabul.”

While PIA has earlier said its Afghanistan operations are “not very lucrative financially” as it faces “difficult circumstances” at Kabul airport, some Afghan experts say high demand has allowed the carrier to impose skyrocketing fares.  

“Demand for travel to Islamabad has increased,” Sayed Massoud, economics professor from Kabul University, told Arab News. “Everyone is trying to get to Islamabad as soon as possible and from there to another place. PIA is trying to monopolize flights to Islamabad to make more money.”

While PIA has not announced whether and when it is going to resume its Afghanistan flights, the airline’s representative in Kabul, Ahmad Salim Rohani, said he is hopeful it will soon return to its operations with more affordable fares.

“Once the flights resume, we hope that tickets will return to lower prices,” he said.

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India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
Updated 05 December 2021

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies

India reports highest COVID-19 fatalities since July as states update tallies
  • The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21

MUMBAI: India on Sunday reported its highest single-day COVID-19 deaths since July after two states revised their death tolls.
The eastern state of Bihar added 2,426 unrecorded deaths while the southern state of Kerala added 263 deaths to their tallies on Sunday, a federal health ministry spokesperson told Reuters.
The revised figures took single-day deaths to 2,796, the highest since July 21, according to a Reuters tally.
A devastating second wave in March and April this year saw thousands of deaths and millions affected.
Indian states have continued to add unreported COVID-19 deaths in recent months, lending weight to some medical experts’ opinions that such deaths are much higher than the reported number of 473,326.


Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
Updated 05 December 2021

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels

Indian villagers protest as army kills 13, fearing rebels
  • Local media reports said Indian security forces had mistakenly opened fire on civilians
  • It was unclear what led to the incident in the state bordering Myanmar

GAUHATI, India: Angry villagers burned army vehicles in protest after more than a dozen people were killed by soldiers who mistakenly believed some of them were militants in India’s remote northeast region along the border with Myanmar, officials said Sunday.
Nagaland state’s top elected official Neiphiu Rio ordered a probe into the killings, which occurred on Saturday, and he tweeted, “The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting is highly condemnable.”
An army officer said the soldiers fired at a truck after receiving intelligence about a movement of insurgents in the area and killed six people. As irate villagers burned two army vehicles, the soldiers fired at them, killing seven more people, the officer said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
One soldier was also killed in the clash with protesters, he said.
Insurgents often cross into Myanmar after attacking Indian government forces in the remote area.
Nyamtow Konyak, a local community leader, said those killed were coal miners.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah expressed anguish over the “unfortunate incident” and said the state government will investigate the killings.
The army officer said the soldiers had laid an ambush for a week following intelligence that insurgents were planning to attack soldiers in the area, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.
Government forces are battling dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote northeast whose demands range from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India.

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Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

JAKARTA: Ten people trapped after Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupted have been evacuated to safety, the country’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, as the death toll from the disaster climbed to at least 13 and with dozens injured.
Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic.
The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, authorities said.
BNPB official Abdul Muhari said in a news release that 13 people have been killed after the eruption, two of whom have been identified. Ninety-eight have been injured, including two pregnant women, and 902 have been evacuated, the statement said.

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption as seen from Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

Thoriqul Haq, a local official in Lumajang, said earlier that sand miners had been trapped around their work sites.
BNPB said at least 35 people had been hospitalized, while Lumajang’s deputy head said 41 people suffered burns.
Semeru, more than 3,600 meters (12,000 feet) high, is one of Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes. It erupted in January, causing no casualties.
Indonesia straddles the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Separately, an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck north of Halmahera on Sunday, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said. Halmahera is about 2,000 km


Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov

MOSCOW: Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video call Tuesday, the White House and Kremlin said, as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border that’s seen as a sign of a potential invasion.
Biden will press US concerns about Russian military activities on the border and “reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday, confirming the planned call after first word came from Moscow.
Putin will come to the call with concerns of his own and intends to express Russia’s opposition to any move to admit Ukraine into the NATO military alliance. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the presidents will decide themselves” how long their talk will last.
The last known call between the leaders was in July, when Biden pressed Putin to rein in Russia-based criminal hacking gangs launching ransomware attacks against the United States. Biden said the US would take any necessary steps to protect critical infrastructure from such attacks.
Ransomware attacks have continued since then, though perhaps none has been as alarming as the one from May that targeted a major fuel pipeline and resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the US
Russia is more adamant than ever that the US guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said this past week that Russia has no say in expansion plans by other countries or the alliance. Numerous former US and NATO diplomats say any such Russian demand to Biden would be a nonstarter.
US intelligence officials, meanwhile, have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The risks for Putin of going through with such an invasion would be enormous.
US officials and former American diplomats say while the Russian president is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden said Friday.
Ukrainian officials have said Russia could invade next month. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.
Russia and Akhmetov have denied that any plot is underway, but the Russians have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United States.
Biden is also expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian leader. This person was not authorized to comment publicly before the announcement of the call and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin, during his call with Biden, would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Biden tried to head off the demand in comments to reporters Friday before leaving for a weekend stay at Camp David.
“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said.
Psaki said in a brief statement Saturday that Biden and Putin will discuss a range of topics in the US-Russia relationship, “including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues.”
She said Friday that the administration would coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She alluded to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954. Russia has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a 7-year conflict that has cost over 14,000 lives.
“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”
US-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.
His administration has imposed sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin for the Kremlin’s interference in US elections, cyberactivity against American companies and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.
When Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June, Biden warned that if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating.”


Rohingya from Bangladesh island camp visit families

A health worker along with locals at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya. (AP/File)
A health worker along with locals at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya. (AP/File)
Updated 05 December 2021

Rohingya from Bangladesh island camp visit families

A health worker along with locals at the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar. Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya. (AP/File)
  • 68 of Bhasan Char’s 20k refugees have returned to the mainland to see loved ones

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities said on Saturday they are planning to make Rohingya family reunions more frequent, as the first group of refugees resettled to a remote island camp in the Bay of Bengal last year visited their relatives on the mainland.

Bangladesh hosts more than 1.1 million Rohingya, who fled neighboring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017. Most of them live in Cox’s Bazar, a coastal region in the country’s east, which with the arrival of Rohingya became the world’s largest refugee settlement.
To take pressure off Cox’s Bazar, the Bangladeshi government has since December 2020 sent 20,000 refugees out of a planned 100,000 to Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island some 68 km from the mainland.
The UN refugee agency had criticized the relocation on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability until October, when it signed an agreement with the Bangladeshi government to start operations on the island. Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch continue to oppose the project, questioning whether the resettlement has been voluntary.
A year since the beginning of relocation, 68 Rohingya living in the island camp were allowed to arrive in Cox’s Bazar on Tuesday night to stay for eight days.
“We have plan to regularize such visits for family reunions of the Rohingyas. After the return of the first batch, we will review the outcome and organize the tour for a second batch if there are no anomalies,” Zohirul Islam, in charge of the Bhasan Char camp, told Arab News.
“In the first batch 68 Rohingyas were taken for the reunion with the families and friends at Cox’s Bazar. They will stay over with the family for eight days.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN refugee agency had criticized the relocation on the grounds of safety and Bhasan Char’s livability until October, when it signed an deal with the government to start operations on the island.

• Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch continue to oppose the project, questioning whether the resettlement has been voluntary.

He added it took a year to grant permission, as authorities needed time to prepare the trip and logistics.
Fatema Begum, 23, who was reunited with her ailing mother in Cox’s Bazar, said the visit gave her “great peace of mind.”
“I was worried about my mother’s health condition,” said Begum, adding: “I was not sure whether I could see her again in my life.”
She told Arab News she would rather stay on the mainland, as most of her family members are in Cox’s Bazar, but in Bhasan Char her fisherman husband has more opportunities to earn a livelihood.
Unlike her, Zobaer Ahmed, 24, said he felt safer on the island as gang violence incidents have been on the rise in Cox’s Bazar in recent months.
“But it’s a great joy to be reunited with my mother, sisters and eight other family members after so many months,” he said. “I am happy to see their faces. No words can express my joy.”
For Ahmed, Bhasan Char is a good place for living, he said, as each family has its own house and there is more space compared with the congested makeshift settlements of Cox’s Bazar. He expressed hope, however, that there would be more freedom of movement for the island’s inhabitants.
“I have shared the information with my friends and family members over the facilities we are currently enjoying at Bhasan Char island,” he told Arab News. “Some of them have expressed interest to be relocated to the island.”
Nur Khan, a prominent human rights activist in Bangladesh, said the reunion was a “praiseworthy initiative,” but certain issues should be addressed as recent reports suggest that dozens of refugees have fled the island, where they are not allowed to move outside the camp.
“The authorities also need to think why some Rohingyas tried to flee from the island in recent months. The authorities should work to find out and remove the causes,” Khan told Arab News.
“We should keep in mind that the Rohingyas are free men also. They took shelter here to save lives. So, we need to ensure a life with dignity for them.”