KABUL, Afghanistan — Ten days after the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan came to an end, a lone jetliner lifted off from Kabul’s airport on Thursday, the first international passenger flight since American forces ended their 20-year presence in the country.
The departure of the chartered Qatar Airways Boeing 777, with scores of Americans, Canadians and Britons on board, was hailed by some as a sign that Taliban-ruled Afghanistan might be poised to re-engage with the world, even as reports emerged that the group was intensifying its crackdown on dissent.
“Kabul Airport is now operational,” Mutlaq bin Majed Al-Qahtani, a special envoy from Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news conference on the tarmac.
In recent days, Qatari and Turkish personnel worked with the Taliban to repair damage and make the airport basically functional again. But just more than a week ago, the facility was a scene of frantic desperation as people jockeyed to find seats on the last commercial and military planes out.
a suicide bombing attack at the gates of the airport killed scores of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban who joined the Qatari envoy at the news conference, said that the resumption of international flights would be critical to ensuring that much-needed aid continued to flow into the country.
China, making cautious overtures to its unstable neighbor, has pledged to give $30 million in food and other aid to the new government. But China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, also urged the Taliban to work to contain terrorist groups.
The United Nations warned on Thursday that the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan assets to keep it out of Taliban hands would inevitably have devastating economic consequences.
Deborah Lyons, the U.N. special envoy on Afghanistan, told the U.N. Security Council that the international community needed to find way to make these funds available to the country, with safeguards to prevent misuse by the Taliban, “to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order.”