The Taliban and the Abu Dhabi-based firm GAAC Solutions signed a contract Thursday, September 8 for the Emirati company to provide flight services and manage planes landing and taking off at key airports in Afghanistan.
The flight guidance services deal will also include equipping the facilities and training Afghan staff at the country’s three major airports, including the one in the capital of Kabul, the Taliban said.
The two other airports covered under the deal are in the cities of Herat, in the country’s west, and Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan and a Taliban heartland during the insurgents’ 20-year war with U.S. and NATO forces.
The Taliban have faced withering international criticism of their rule since seizing the country in August 2021 amid the last weeks of the American and NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover, Qatar’s government has agreed to represent the United States in the Taliban-run country, following the closure of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban-appointed deputy prime minister, said at Thursday’s deal-signing ceremony in Kabul that the “strengthening of the economy is a priority for the government. This agreement will have a positive effect on trade and economic growth of the country.”
The international community, wary of the Taliban’s harsh rule when they were last in power more than 20 years ago, has withheld official recognition of the Taliban government and Afghanistan’s assets abroad have been frozen.
Taliban’s acting minister for transportation and civil aviation, Hamidullah Akhundzada said that the contract’s main goal is to develop air services for flights and provide services at airports.
In March, the same company signed its first deal to manage ground handling at the same airports. At the time, Baradar described the arrangement as renewing an airport ground-handling agreement with the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms home to the long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways.
The Taliban, whose government remains an international pariah without formal recognition, have courted regional powers, including Qatar and Turkey, to operate Kabul airport, landlocked Afghanistan’s main air link with the world, and others.
GAAC Solutions had reportedly signed a USD 47 million service contract in 2020, with Afghanistan’s then-US-backed government to run airports in the country, including ground handling, information technology, and security.
GAAC Solutions had once described itself on a one-page website as an Abu Dhabi-based joint venture whose partners include the firm G42, which is believed to have the backing of the ruling family of the Emirati capital.
G42, however, has said it no longer is a part of GAAC Solutions. A telephone number or contact information for GAAC Solutions could not be immediately found Thursday.