Key Words: Consumer behavior – Kabul airspace – Rawlsian political conception theory – Taliban
With the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, massive uncertainty has sparked off in the realm of aviation. Considering most flights connecting the Indian subcontinent to the West rely on flying over the Afghani airspace, the recent Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) suggesting airlines to reroute their paths so as to avoid Afghan airspace, comes as a significant damper.
A closer look at the map and one would understand that the alternate to avoiding Kabul is to choose between the costlier and more inconvenient options of Iran, the Middle East and Belarus, which is infamous for arbitrary denial of flying permission.
Insurance worries aside, both government and airlines remain sincere adherents to the idea of evading hazardous flying. The shooting of the Malaysian Airlines plane near eastern Ukraine in 2014, and the downing of the Ukraine flight in 2020 by Iran, instill vivid reminders of the perils of choosing to be adventurous in the face of caution.
Although experts believe that the conflict is not particularly going to affect global crude oil prices in the long run, it is safe to infer that the regional instability will surely shoot up the price of oil till a recognized government is formed in the country. The inflationary standards of oil, coupled with increased flying time has sort of created a double whammy for air travelers and commercial participants alike. At a time, when the aviation industry is still recuperating from the insufferable hurdles posed by the COVID pandemic, such turmoil is bound to test the melting point of insignificant players.
Furthermore, the radical alteration of consumer behavior, post the pandemic, has essentially eradicated the prioritization of business travelers, given how business operate online instead of offline in the prevailing circumstances. The consequence is the compulsive change in strategy- to reorient preference to suit the requirements of leisure travelers over business travelers.
Interestingly, be it business travelers who value time over money, or leisure travelers who value money over time, the instant need to avoid Kabul airspace deters intentions to favor either. Rerouting will force additional flying time, and the additional flying time will factor in fuel surcharges which will reflect in increased costs. Therefore, there is no real escaping for the aviation industry this time, particularly in respect of flights to and from India.
Given the lucrative source of revenue in doling out overflying permits, the Taliban is most likely to engage with countries in amassing such convenient contracting of financial wealth. Regardless of such an initiative, it is quite unlikely, however, that sovereigns are going to engage with the likes of Taliban in procuring such permit, primarily because such a give and take could evidence formal recognition of a Taliban government within sovereign quarters.
Even if hypothetically speaking, we were to assume a light at the end of a tunnel in the sense of overflying permits being put in place, airlines are most likely to continue avoiding use of Afghani airspace during Taliban rule. The duplicity of the terror outfit aside, the possibility of having to request emergency landing during the path of flying seems like an inconvenient reality for airlines to justify to its passengers, if choosing to fly over Afghanistan. Consequently, airlines are predicted to avoid the Kabul airspace irrevocably during the continuance of the Taliban as a pseudo-State entity.
Dwindling profits, and increased operational costs of west-east connectivity is going to reflect in the substantial constriction of the frequency of flights flying in and out of New Delhi. While the assumption is still based on conjecture, one would assume that the consequence would also factor in within the future of India’s geopolitical nexus with its influential diplomatic partners in the west. While most of the world leaders, led by the People’s Republic China and Russia, have engaged in a strange strategy to bid time for the Taliban in amassing political momentum, it is absolutely crucial for India to effectively maneuver its influence as the chair of the UNSC in mobilizing international isolation of the Taliban. Only then can there be a sincere attempt at regaining the Afghani land for the Afghan people. Though the need to avoid military action is paramount, one must remember the Rawlsian political conception theory of Human Rights, which suggests the international community must use force when the factual sovereign unleashes terror on its own citizens. A duty lies on the international community to safeguard the interests of their international citizens when subjected to the tyranny of one particular sovereign/sovereign-like entity.
Even as countries await to successfully repatriate their citizens out of Afghanistan, there is no clarity regarding the future of Afghanistan and its people. If India is to hold on to its influence in the subcontinent, it must bypass Chinese influence in convincing the sovereign community of the perils of formally recognizing a Taliban government.
Profiteering and sovereign interests aside, we have a people looking to the international community for support. It will be nothing short of a betrayal if we were to defer the security of the people to selfish interests of artificial relevance quantified within the interaction of international powers. One must remember that we are dealing with an international crisis wherein lives are at stake and the cultural identity of a nation is being held at a ransom. The situation is a dire existential crisis for a community of people, and not an invitation for a series of proxy wars to be fought by nations. Consequently, any possibility of advantageous predicament to any international player must solely be co-incidental to the welfare and interests of the Afghani people, and not be prima facie driven by such vicarious intent.
With that being said, one can only hope that United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, India and the various other powers that be, let their differences aside for a moment to truly appreciate the difficult times the people of Afghanistan are pulling themselves through. One hopes that they will collude just this once, to favor stability over instability, and permit the natural course of unhindered business to flow, err, take off.
* Lecturer in Law, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana.