China has resumed operating direct commercial flights with Afghanistan after a hiatus of about three years in a sign of growing diplomatic ties between Kabul and Beijing, officials said.

The Taliban regime will have a direct flight operating from its Kabul airport – one of four international airports in the country – to Urumqi in China every Wednesday, Imamuddin Ahmadi, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s ministry of transport and civil aviation told The Independent over a phone call.

This will add to the list of the existing 20 or 30 flights leaving Afghanistan daily, increasing the revenues of the country’s aviation sector. Afghanistan will be using its flagship carrier Ariana Afghan airlines for the direct flight to China.

There will be passenger flights as well, the ministry said.

This is the first time China has resumed direct flights to the Taliban-ruled country since the end of 2019.

It has joined Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and India, all of which had gradually resumed some direct flights after the fall of Kabul in August 2021.

Current daily flights from Afghanistan are mostly to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Turkey, Mr Ahmadi said. After the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani regime in 2021, the country’s international airports were damaged and left barely functional.

But now, almost two years after it took power, the Taliban has four functional international airports – Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif – the spokesperson said.

The hardline Islamist regime is yet to get any direct or connecting flights to the US and Europe.

The resumption of direct international flights will help Afghanistan’s economy and prove to be beneficial for political and commercial relations between Afghanistan and China, said Ghulam Jailani Wafa, the Taliban’s deputy minister of transport and civil aviation minister.

“It has a direct impact on the economy of the country, economic and political relations, and between the Islamic Emirate [of Afghanistan] and China as well as on trade and the public,” the minister said at a ceremony held to announce the resumption of operations.

Mr Ahmadi added that the development will be a boost for the nation.

“This has several benefits for Afghanistan. Our economy will grow, there are several passengers who will be able to bring goods from China, aiding the trade relations the countries have,” Mr Ahmadi said.

Businessmen from Afghanistan can now directly fly to China instead of having to take connecting flights, he said.

The ministry is keeping the door open for other airlines to resume direct flights to China and other nations if, with time, they can find more passengers to travel to international destinations.

“We are supporting this facility of flight travel out of Afghanistan,” he said.

An official from the Chinese embassy said the resumption of flights will promote the economic and trade collaboration between the nations, reported TOLO news.

This comes as China and Afghanistan have increasingly become closer. The countries have signed financial investments and projects this year in a bid to help the shunned regime build back the country’s economy.

Earlier this month, the caretaker regime’s ministry of industry and commerce said China signed investment contracts worth around $2bn in various areas like extraction of mines, services at airports and industrial parks.

China, along with Pakistan, also backed calls for bridging gaps in humanitarian funding for Afghanistan, stating the financial aid should be not linked with “political considerations”.

Officials monitoring Taliban’s moves to fund its economy have warned that aid to Afghanistan will drop sharply this year as donor countries seek to challenge curbs on female aid workers imposed by the Taliban administration and try to cope with an increase in crises around the world.

“The ministers underlined that humanitarian support to the people of Afghanistan must remain delinked from any political considerations,” the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and the Taliban said in a joint statement earlier this month.

China is a “traditional friendly neighbour of Afghanistan” and “believes that Afghanistan should not be excluded from the international community,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin had said, calling on the Taliban to reform its radical policies against women and girls.

“The well-being and interests of the Afghan people deserve attention, the peace and reconstruction process of Afghanistan should be encouraged, and its sovereignty and territorial integrity should be respected,” he had said.

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