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India cements relations with Afghanistan by routing food aid through Iran

File photo of Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal at Iran's Chabahar Port (Photo: PIB)

By providing medical aid and food to the people of Afghanistan through the Iranian port of Chabahar, India is increasing its soft power in the land-locked country besides sidelining Pakistan.

A news report in Afghan news agency Khaama says this also breaks the stranglehold of “Pakistan, which once played a major role in matters of Afghanistan”. The report says that earlier, commercial goods from India were trucked to Afghanistan through Pakistan. The use of the Chabahar port also confers a new role upon Iran in providing goods to Afghanistan, relegating Pakistan to a peripheral role.

Indian wheat will cross the Iranian border into Afghanistan’s Herat province. The Chabahar port is proving to be useful as a politically unstable and economically-weak Pakistan has been refusing Indian aid trucks to cross its territory into Afghanistan.

Routing the wheat through Iran also marks a big geo-political shift in the region, significantly reducing Pakistan’s influence over Afghanistan, where the relations between the two governments have been on a decline owing to territorial disputes and trading in terror charges.

It was in April 2023 that India had signed an agreement with the UN World Food Program (WFP) for the delivery of humanitarian assistance comprising 10,000 mt of wheat for Afghanistan, where millions are on the brink of starvation. This agreement is the fifth tranche of food aid that India has committed to in 2020. The WFP says: “Last year, the Government of India shipped 40,000 mt of wheat to Afghanistan, contributing to WFP’s efforts to reach 23 million food-insecure people across the country”.

By continuing to provide aid to Afghanistan, now to the Taliban regime which took over the country in August 2021, India has also sent a signal that it is open to building positive relations with “Afghanistan’s de facto administration”. Though the Taliban has not been given international recognition, India provided online training to Afghan diplomats recently and deployed a technical team in 2022 to oversee aid to the war-torn country.

India had announced a 20,000 MT wheat aid to Afghanistan at the India-Central Asia Summit in March 2022 that discussed the interests and welfare of the common Afghan people. The summit also had country representatives of the United Nations World Food Programme (UNWFP) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC).

India, which is known as the first responder in South Asia reaching out to the neighbouring countries in times of natural disasters and other calamities has been lauded for its Neighbourhood First policy. India’s Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations have been appreciated widely in the neighbourhood as these seek to benefit the local people by building their capacities through livelihoods, education and capacity building programmes.