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Pakistan raises hurdles in India’s humanitarian outreach to Afghans

Imran Khan government has taken a U-turn after promising to allow 50,000 metric tonnes of Indian wheat as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan via Pakistan. (Photo: Tribune)

After promising to allow 50,000 metric tonnes of Indian wheat  as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan via Pakistan unconditionally, the Imran Khan government has taken a U-turn.  According to Pakistani media reports, Islamabad has raised the bogey that only the United Nations can operate the transportation of wheat from India to Afghanistan. 

“Indian trucks will unload the wheat at Wagah border and then the Pakistani trucks under the banner of UN will load wheat at the crossing and then take it to Afghanistan,” says the report of the Pakistani daily Express Tribune.

Pakistan, India at odds over wheat transit modalities

According to an estimate, the transportation will require at least 1200 trucks to carry 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat  and the Indian government will have to bear the whole cost. The whole process will have to be completed in 30 days of the commencement of first shipment.

According to sources, India objected to the conditions put by the Imran Khan government, insisting no conditions should be attached with humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people who are in dire need of food.

“We are examining the response to our proposal to deliver  humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. We are also working out the modalities with the Pakistan side. We believe humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditionalities,’’ said spokesperson of the External Affairs Ministry Arindam Bagchi,  adding that not only wheat, India is supplying life-saving medicines as well.

It has been more than a month since India offered to urgently send 50000 metric tonnes of wheat to the needy Afghan people. Consequently, it had requested Pakistan to allow Indian or Afghan trucks to carry the consignment via the land route that passed through Pakistan. But the Imran Khan government did not respond to India’s request for three weeks. It was only in early November, under pressure from the Taliban government  and the international community, that Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, agreed to work on modalities for transporting Indian wheat to Afghanistan before the harsh winter sets in.  Last week Pakistan set the conditions.

"If India is sincere in sending aid to Afghanistan, then it should not have any objections to our modalities,"  an official of the Pakistan Foreign Office told Express Tribune adding that Pakistan has created exception by allowing India to use Wagah border to transport wheat to Afghanistan as otherwise it does not permit two-way trade between Afghanistan and India. It only permits Afghanistan to export goods to India using Wagah border.

Apart from food supplies, considered humanitarian aid under international norms, India is keen to send medicines to the country that has faced decades of conflict. However, Pakistan always  blocked India's efforts to provide aid to the Afghan people via its land route.

The result of Pakistan’s unyielding attitude  has been that war-ravaged Afghanistan is staring at a food crisis. Malnutrition has reached dangerously high levels, with UNICEF estimating more than 80 per cent of children suffering from long-term or acute malnutrition. The World Food Programme warns that "the world's worst humanitarian crisis is unfolding" in Afghanistan, where more than 22 million people could be at risk of starvation.

Also Read : Imran Khan relents – promises to allow transit of Indian wheat to Afghanistan through Pakistan