India sends first consignment of aid for Afghanistan

It marks the end to months of bureaucratic wrangling between Islamabad and New Delhi; truckers hope it will lead to reopening of trade

February 22, 2022 10:36 pm | Updated 10:40 pm IST - CHANDIGARH/NEW DELHI:

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay, flagging off the trucks carrying wheat from India at the Attari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan, on February 22, 2022.

Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay, flagging off the trucks carrying wheat from India at the Attari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan, on February 22, 2022. | Photo Credit: AP

Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla flagged off a convoy of 50 trucks carrying 2500 MT of wheat as humanitarian aid for Afghanistan at the India-Pakistan integrated check post (ICP) on Tuesday, the first of about 1000 truckloads which will head for Jalalabad over the next few weeks.

The wheat, is expected to be sent across Afghanistan to help people deal with the crisis caused by food shortages and an economic collapse after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, and was made “in response to appeals made by the United Nations for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” the Ministry of External Affairs said. 

Traders and truckers in Amritsar also welcomed the trans-shipment, which is taking place after being suspended for nearly three years, and expressed the hope that the opening for Afghan aid would also lead to a reopening of India and Pakistan trade, whose closure has caused massive economic losses in the border town.

“The shipment is part of the commitment made by the Government of India to supply 50,000 MT of wheat for the people of Afghanistan. The wheat assistance will be delivered in multiple consignments and will be handed over to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Jalalabad, Afghanistan,” an MEA statement said, that made no reference to the Taliban regime, which India and other countries do not recognise.

World Food Program Country Director Mr. Bishaw Parajuli, who had helped complete the negotiations with India, and Afghan Ambassador Farid Mamundzay were also present at the ceremony. According to officials, the Wheat, procured by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has been specially “double bagged” to protect it from contamination and moisture along the 500km journey from Attari to Jalalabad, and then to other centres for distribution. 

The wheat shipment, which was packed in special bags stamped “Gift from the people of India to the People of Afghanistan”, marks an end to months of bureaucratic wrangles between New Delhi and Islamabad. The consignment had been originally offered to the Taliban leadership in October 2021, but was held up due to objections from Pakistan, which had shut down all trade from India after New Delhi’s decisions on Jammu Kashmir and Article 370. 

Once Pakistan PM Khan announced he would allow the trans-shipment as an “exception”, and other permissions were secured from Islamabad, it was further delayed due to Punjab elections, and trucks from Afghanistan finally came into Attari on Monday to be loaded, a day after Punjab polling. Afghan trucks will ply the route, not Indian trucks, as per the Pakistani stipulations, and the drivers are being given special permits instead of visas by India.

Thanking India for its “generosity” and the WFP for their contribution to make this “worthy cause” possible under challenging circumstances,” Mr. Mamundzay said that he hoped “there would be no more barriers to humanitarian aid today, tomorrow and forever.”

Meanwhile commodities traders in Amritsar said the trade suspension that also followed India’s decision to cancel Pakistan’s MFN trading privileges in 2019 had led to massive losses for their earnings. 

“Business is down by around 70% in comparison to what it used to be before the trade was stopped. We were regularly importing cement, gypsum, dry dates, and rock salt from Pakistan while exporting vegetable seeds, soybeans, cotton yarn,” said Dalip Singh, an Amritsar-based importer-exporter.

“We hope this is the first step to normalise trade relations between the neighbouring countries There’s an urgent need set the ball rolling now as the world was facing huge economic crises due to COVID pandemic during last two years and it would be a defining moment to reopen this trade route,” Director, Confederation of International Chambers of Commerce and Industry Ashok Sethi told The Hindu. 

Apart from wheat, India has already supplied 13 tonnes of essential medication and winter clothing, as well as 500,000 doses of COVAXIN to Afghanistan by commercial flights. Prior to the Taliban takeover, India had used the Chabahar port route through Iran to deliver a million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan. However officials, cited logistical difficulties in operating the route for the current consignment of 50,000 MT, despite offers from the Iranian government to facilitate the transfer.

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