Pakistan takes centre stage in West’s evacuation effort


Pakistan emerged at the centre stage of hectic global activities to safely evacuate the Western diplomats and their local helpers in Afghanistan, just weeks before the pull-out of all foreign troops after a long 20-year presence.

The country’s main Islamabad Airport has become hub of evacuation process, which had provided transit to more than 20,000 evacuees in 10 days after the fall of Kabul to Taliban, a gigantic effort praised in all the world capitals.

Now, when the evacuation process was winding down, a new effort is about to be launched – flying in the humanitarian supplies into the war-torn countries. Sources have said that the World Food Programme (WFP) has already issued an appeal to Pakistan for help.

Several world leaders have contacted Pakistan in the past two weeks, through telephone calls to Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi. They have conveyed their appreciation of Pakistan’s support to the world in the evacuation process and efforts for Afghan peace.

In this regard, officials said that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas would undertake an important visit to Pakistan next week. Earlier on August 21, Maas telephoned Qureshi and exchanged with him views on the situation in Afghanistan.

The sources said that in Islamabad, the German foreign minister would hold consultations with the Pakistani leadership on Afghan security and the establishment of a broad-based government. The evacuation of foreigners from Afghanistan would also be discussed during the visit, they added.

Taliban seized Kabul on August 15, two weeks before the deadline for the withdrawal of American forces from the country. The fall of the capital city triggered a wave of panic among foreigners as well some locals, who rushed to Kabul airport – the only escape route from the country.

The US forces, which has been in control of the Hamid Karzai International Airport, are coordinating the international flights, as well as their own military flights to take the passengers out of the country.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is also operating special flights as part of the evacuation mission.

Sources at the Islamabad Airport said that between the period of August 16 and 26, more than 20,000 passengers flew into the city onboard 332 coalition aircraft and special international flights operated by other airlines.

They added that the passengers included at-risk Afghans also. From Islamabad the passengers were leaving for different countries. They also said that flights operation was still continuing, ahead of the US drawdown deadline of August 31 (tomorrow).

On the other hand, the changing situation in Afghanistan, the United Nations Food Programme has also sought help from Pakistan. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), according to a notification, had approved conditional air operations for the WFP for Afghanistan.

The notification said that planes and helicopters would be used to deliver food to Kabul, while there would be a ban on carrying military equipment in the relief flights. The WFP would also pay a fixed fee for the operation.

According to civil aviation officials, the United Nations would have to provide full details of the food operation. They added that besides Islamabad, Peshawar airport would also be used to deliver. They said that 6 people would fly from Peshawar to Kabul by M18 helicopter.

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