Qatar: Who knows when the Kabul airport will reopen? Also, are the Taliban trying to reform their image?

As near as anyone can tell, no commercial flights have landed at or taken off from the Kabul airport since the bugout ended on Monday. Given the treacherous conditions facing anyone seeking an overland route out of Afghanistan, that doesn’t leave many options for the people who were left behind and are still praying for a way to escape. But the physical structure of the airport wasn’t destroyed when the Taliban took over. Certainly, there are some abandoned and disabled vehicles to clear out of the way and the basic infrastructure will need to be kick-started, but it should still be possible to bring it back to operational status without all that much effort. So when will we see planes landing and taking off again? Nobody knows, including the intermediaries in Qatar who have been handling all of the negotiations. (Associated Press)

Qatar’s top diplomat said Thursday that experts are racing to reopen Kabul’s airport but warned it was not clear when flights would resume, with many still desperate to flee Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders amid concerns over what their rule will hold.

In the wake of their rapid takeover, the Taliban have sought to calm those fears, including pledging to let women and girls attend school and allow people to travel freely. But many are skeptical, and Britain’s foreign minister stressed the importance of engaging with the new rulers to test their promises.

A team of Qatari and Turkish technicians flew to Kabul on Wednesday to help restart operations at the facility, which the U.N. says is crucial to providing the country with humanitarian assistance. It remains to be seen, however, whether any commercial airlines will be willing to offer service.

The Qatari Foreign Minister said that they remain “hopeful” that commercial flights will resume soon, but they are still evaluating what will be needed to make that happen. Turkey has volunteered to resume military flights in the near future and those could be used to evacuate more people. But the basic operational infrastructure will still need to be in place, along with some guarantees from the Taliban that the planes won’t be attacked.

If the technical team from Turkey and Qatar is comprised of competent people, this shouldn’t be an impossible task. They’ll need to get the control tower up and running and make sure that the radar and radio equipment are functional. They will need to ensure that planes can be refueled while they are on the ground, which also means bringing in a steady supply of jet fuel. But we’re talking about an airport that only has one runway, so the challenges shouldn’t be nearly as daunting as those associated with the larger international airports around the world.

But in the end, the biggest obstacle to getting the situation under control will be the Taliban themselves. The Qatari representative noted that no commercial airlines have committed to flying to Kabul yet, largely due to concerns over security and whether or not the Taliban have any intention of or interest in keeping pilots and passengers safe. And even if they do, the Taliban still controls all access to the airport. Would they allow any remaining Americans, green card holders, or Afghan helpers to simply board a commercial flight and take off?

That brings us to what may be the biggest question of all moving forward. Currently, the Taliban is talking a good game through their spokespeople. They’re promising to reopen the schools and allow women and girls to get an education or keep working. Yesterday, a group of women showed up to protest outside of the governor’s office in the western province of Herat. There were Taliban fighters there, but they didn’t break up the protest. Could it really be possible that they’re trying to polish their image a bit and act like respectable human beings?

That’s clearly what they want us to think but we also know that people have continued to “disappear” around the country, particularly in the more remote provinces. Even if they are so desperate for foreign aid and resources that they’re willing to pretend to be civilized for a while, how long would that hold? After all, they retook the nation while specifically promising to reinstitute Sharia law. And are we simply going to collectively ignore the fact that the Taliban is only in control because they came in and overthrew an elected government and forced the total surrender of that government’s military? Nobody voted for the Taliban. I’d like to see how well they would do if they dared to actually call for elections.

It may not be entirely impossible for a tiger to change its stripes, but this is still a terrorist organization we’re talking about. And they’re one of the more brutal ones out there. It’s going to be a stain on all of human civilization if we all suddenly put on blinders and begin pretending that they are just another government entity to negotiate with.