PIA official was held at gunpoint for hours by Taliban commanders

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suspended its flights to Kabul after what it called “heavy handed” interference by Taliban authorities, including arbitrary rule changes and intimidation of staff, The News reported.

The PIA said that ever since the new Taliban government was formed, its staff in Kabul had faced last-minute changes in regulations and flight permissions along with “highly intimidating behaviour” by Taliban commanders.

It said its country representative had been held at gunpoint for hours at one point and was only freed after the Pakistan Embassy in Kabul intervened, the report said.

The suspension of flight operations came as the Taliban government ordered the airline, the only international company operating regularly out of Kabul, to cut ticket prices to levels seen before the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government in August.

A PIA spokesman told Geo News that operations have been suspended for an “unspecified period” and that the decision was taken in the backdrop of “inappropriate behaviour” demonstrated by the Afghan authorities.

Undesirable conditions for the operation of international flights in Kabul and the Taliban government’s “last minute changes in decisions” are also part of the reason PIA made the move, the spokesman said.

The PIA said it has decided that no aircraft will go to Kabul without insurance, the report said.

Earlier, the Taliban had warned the PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air that their Afghan operations risked being blocked unless they agreed to cut ticket prices, which have reached levels increasingly out of reach for most Afghans.

With most international airlines no longer flying to Afghanistan, tickets for flights to Islamabad were selling for as much as $2,500 on PIA, according to travel agents in Kabul, compared to $120-$150 before.

The Afghan transport ministry had said in a statement that prices on the route should “be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate” or the flights would be stopped. It had urged passengers and others to report any violations.

Flights between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been severely limited since Kabul airport was reopened last month in the wake of the chaotic evacuation of more than 100,000 Westerners and vulnerable Afghans following the Taliban take over.

With a mounting economic crisis adding to the worries about Afghanistan’s future under the Taliban, there has been heavy demand for flights out and the main passport office in Kabul has been besieged by people trying to get travel documents since it reopened earlier this month. Demand for flights has been further pushed by repeated difficulties at land border crossings into Pakistan.