Mon. Oct 18th, 2021

With the Taliban in charge of Kabul airport after the United States completed its withdrawal, the focus will now shift from the chaotic evacuation operation of the past two weeks to the group’s plans for the transportation center.

The symbolism of the airport was underlined on Tuesday when the Taliban’s biggest spokesman stood on its runway and declared victory over the US. But what happens next is unclear.

Here’s a look at the future of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Who will manage security?

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Al Jazeera the group was now working on the security and operation of the site, indicating that they were in talks with Qatar and Turkey about the future of the facility.

The group has repeatedly said that after August 31, they will not accept any foreign military presence in the country.

“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 airport in Kabul,” Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi told AFP on Monday.

Michael Kugelman, a South Asian specialist at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, said foreign security would be present if airlines returned, and that an agreement could still be reached.

“You are looking at security in a very volatile environment,” he told AFP.

“There are all kinds of alarm bells … for commercial airlines that I don’t think would be comfortable to get to the airport.”

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, told the Financial Times newspaper that his country was appealing to the Taliban to accept foreign aid.

“What we are trying to explain to them is that the safety and security of the airport requires much more than just securing the perimeter,” he said.

Who will manage the logistics of the airport?

As for the US, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that it was “essentially returning the airport to the Afghan people”.

In recent weeks, NATO has played a key role, with its civilian personnel in charge of air traffic control, fuel supplies and communications.

The Taliban has asked Turkey to handle logistics while maintaining security control, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country is still considering the offer.

However, while the Taliban have insisted on full control over security, Erdogan seems less enthusiastic.

‘Let’s say you took over security, but how would we explain to the world if there was another massacre? he said.

The management and maintenance of an airport is complex and requires expertise.

As thousands of skilled workers are thought to have fled the country – despite the Taliban’s pleas to stay – questions remain as to whether there are enough trained workers left in the Afghan capital.

Which airlines are allowed?

It was not immediately clear which airlines would agree to fly in and out of Kabul.

The Taliban insist they want to keep the civilian airport open, but without guarantees of security, commercial airlines simply will not go.

An important incentive to operate a functional airport is the boost that the Taliban’s international image will give.

“If the Taliban wants to gain the recognition and legitimacy of governments around the world, it must have a working, safe and reliable airport,” Kugelman said.

But it will probably take time.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says Kabul airport no longer has air traffic control services after the withdrawal of the U.S. military, adding that U.S. civilian aircraft have been banned from flying into Afghanistan airspace unless they obtain prior permission.

Can people still leave Afghanistan?

The Taliban have demanded that Afghans be able to come and go.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the group’s deputy chief negotiator, said patients and visas could go abroad with dignity and peace of mind after commercial flights opened.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said a new team will be formed for the next phase of diplomatic work on Afghanistan from Doha.

He added that the US would continue its work to help Americans and Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan and keep “under 200” Americans in the country, but probably closer to 100.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has said the world will hold the Taliban accountable for their promise to provide safe passage for those seeking to leave Afghanistan.

As for the movement, Blinken said his country would cooperate with any future Afghan government based on his actions.

Thousands of Afghans who have worked with foreign missions or the US-backed government over the years and are afraid of retaliation also want to get away.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday urging the Taliban to honor a commitment to leave Afghanistan in the coming days and to grant humanitarian access to the UN and other aid agencies.

In what condition is the airport?

According to Younis Ayat Yaseen of Al Jazeera, Kabul airport says it is in disarray, and the Taliban say the US military is responsible for the destruction left behind.

“It may take a long time to get the airport back in order and make its facilities functional again,” Yaseen said.

The exclusive Arab footage of Al Jazeera from the airport in Kabul showed that the various halls of the airport were destroyed, with windows, seating areas and ATM machines broken.

A pilot told AFP the terminal was built by passengers in the chaos of the early days of the Taliban takeover.

In addition to the passenger halls, critical infrastructure has been destroyed, including air traffic control terminals, which need to be replaced for commercial flights.

U.S. officials said the airport is in poor condition, with much of the basic infrastructure weakened or destroyed.

On the plus side, the two-week mass evacuation campaign has shown that the runways of the airport function when in poor condition.

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