KABUL: Taleban fighters patrol in a vehicle along the tarmac at the airport yesterday. — AFP

KABUL: Afghanistan marked the 20th anniversary of 9/11 in muted fashion yesterday with the Taleban firmly in charge, two decades after being ousted for hosting the architects of the US attacks. The hardline Islamists retook power on Aug 15, after a lightning offensive that capitalized on the chaotic last weeks of the 20-year US-led occupation that followed the 2001 attacks.

In a sign that things were returning to normal, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said it would resume flights to Kabul from tomorrow, the first foreign commercial service since the Taleban seized power last month. And in a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt, hundreds of fully veiled women staged a rally at a Kabul university to profess support for the Taleban, just days after public protests against their rule were banned.

Unconfirmed reports had circulated all week that the Taleban may use the Sept 11 anniversary to swear in their new government, but the day unfolded without formal recognition. “This is a day for America, not for Afghanistan,” said Muhammad Alzoad, a bank clerk. “This was nothing to do with Afghanistan, but it made us suffer.”

Taleban fighters have violently put down protests that broke out against their rule in Kabul and elsewhere in recent days, shooting two people dead. They also detained and brutally beat some journalists who covered the protests, before outlawing demonstrations unless permitted by the justice department. Yesterday, however, dozens of women dressed head-to-toe in black abayas and face-covering niqabs were allowed to rally in support of the Taleban. Around 300 similarly dressed women first met at a lecture hall of a Kabul university to hear speakers extol the virtues of Taleban policies.

Also yesterday, PIA said it was resuming flights to and from Kabul, but added the schedule would depend on demand. “We have got all technical clearances for flight operations,” PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafeez Khan told AFP. “Our first commercial plane… is scheduled to fly from Islamabad to Kabul on September 13. We will make the decision about the regular commercial operations in due course after assessing the situation.”

Kabul airport was severely damaged during the evacuation of over 120,000 people, which ended with the withdrawal of US forces on Aug 30. The Taleban have been scrambling to get it operating again with Qatari technical assistance. In the last two days, Qatar Airways has operated two charter flights out of Kabul, carrying mostly foreigners and Afghans who missed being taken out during the evacuation.

Two planes from the United Arab Emirates landed yesterday carrying aid supplies including meat, powdered milk, cooking oil and other items – part of what an official described as a “humanitarian airbridge”. An operations manager with the UAE-based GAAC – a company that has provided ground and security services for the airport since Nov 2020 — told AFP that efforts to make the facility fully functional were under way. “We have activated and resumed our operations,” said Ibrahim Moarafi. – AFP