TEHRAN — Iran Wednesday resumed commercial flights to Afghanistan that had been halted after the Taliban assumed power, shipping its first humanitarian aid consignment for the Afghan people.
The Fars news agency reported that a charter return flight transported passengers and humanitarian aid from Tehran to Kabul. It said a second flight from northeastern city of Mashhad left for Kabul, too.
The flights were from the Mahan Air Airbus fleet. They were the first such flights between the two countries since the return of the Taliban to power on August 15.
The Iranian civil aviation agency had announced the interruption of flights to Kabul on August 16 for security reasons.
Previously, Mahan Air had operated two flights per week between Mashhad and Kabul.
Mahan Air, the second largest Iranian airline after the state-owned Iran Air, has been on the list of entities targeted by illegal U.S. sanctions against Iran since 2011.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Islamic Republic hosts more than 3.46 million Afghans, most of them refugees or illegal immigrants, representing more than four percent of Iran’s population.
On Monday, the United Nations drummed up more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges for helping 11 million Afghans facing an escalating humanitarian crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region.
At the first high-level conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a month ago, big traditional donors and others announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million that the United Nations was seeking to cover costs through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from looming humanitarian disaster.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths announced at the close of the ministerial meeting that more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian and development aid had been pledged.
Tehran was one of the largest donors at a 2002 Tokyo conference, pledging more than India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, and Pakistan combined.
Officials at the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, have expressed concerns that more Afghans could take refuge into neighboring Pakistan and Iran.
Griffiths urged donors to turn Monday’s pledges into cash contributions as fast as possible, saying “the funding will throw a lifeline to Afghans” who lack food, health care and protection. He said the meeting showed solidarity with the Afghan people but added that “Afghanistan faces a long and hard road ahead” and this “is far from the end of the journey.”
“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the opening of the conference. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them.”
He said one in three Afghans doesn’t know where their next meal will come from, the poverty rate is “spiraling” and basic public services are nearing collapse. A severe drought is jeopardizing the upcoming harvest, and hunger has been rising.
The UN’s World Food Program says Afghans are growing increasingly short of cash to buy food, the majority of which — like wheat flour — is imported. Frozen foreign exchanges and a paralyzed state budget have stripped people of the money they need just as food and fuel prices have risen.
Afghanistan relies on Iran for transit route and imports including fuel. The two countries share some 945 kilometers, (580 miles) of borders.
According to customs officials, all Iranian borders with Afghanistan have reopened and goods are transiting safely.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei stressed last month that Iran would continue to support the Afghan people.
“We are on the side of the Afghan nation because governments come and go as in the past, but it is the Afghan nation that remains, and the nature of Iran’s relationship with governments also depends on the nature of their relationship with Iran. We ask God for goodness and salvation from this situation for the people of Afghanistan,” he said in a meeting with the new Iranian administration.
The Islamic Republic has spent millions of dollars on development and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. It has built hundreds of kilometers of highways and railroads.