India will send its next consignment of wheat as aid to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime via Chabahar, the MEA announced on Tuesday. The decision, that was announced at the first meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Afghanistan in Delhi, came after the agreement with Pakistan to extend for sending the wheat over the land route expired, and talks on extending the time have failed to proceed.
While India had sent about 40,000 metric tonnes (MT) of 50,000 MT promised last year after an agreement with the previous PM Imran Khan government, the shipments had to be called off after floods in Pakistan, and the time period allowed by Pakistan ran out. India has used the Chabahar route in the past, prior to 2021, to send shipments of wheat to Afghanistan
“To address the current humanitarian situation, Indian side announced its partnership with UNWFP (UN World Food Programme) for the delivery of 20,000 MTs of wheat for Afghan people through the Chabahar Port,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement after the meeting of Senior officials and envoys of India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic,Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The JWG meeting comes more than a year after the India-Central Asia summit in January 2022, where the decision to hold a special contact group on Afghanistan was announced.
At the JWG, India also agreed to offer “customised capacity building courses” for UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) officials and stakeholders and cooperate on initiatives to counter drug trafficking and rehabilitation efforts for Afghan drug users, especially women.
However, the release did not specify if the training courses would be provided through the Indian Mission in Kabul, that has a ‘technical team’ posted there, or whether the government would extend visas for Afghans to travel to India for the training. At present, India has cancelled all visas issued to Afghans prior to August 2021, when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, and has not issued new visas for Afghan students or others wishing to travel here.
According to UNODC reports, opium production is up by nearly a third in the past year, especially after the Taliban took control of Kabul. More than 80% of the world’s opium and heroin is smuggled out of Afghanistan, where an estimated 3 million people, or nearly one tenth of the population is addicted. The issues of drugs, the export of terrorism and radicalism, and refugees has been at the top of concerns for neighbouring countries in Central Asia.
The JWG also emphasised the “importance of formation of a truly inclusive and representative political structure that respects the rights of all Afghans and ensures equal rights of women, girls and members of minority groups, including access to education,” the joint statement said and said no terror organisations including UN designated terrorists “should be provided sanctuary or allowed to use the territory of Afghanistan.
The meeting comes even as other Indian and Central Asian officials (excluding Turkmenistan) are taking part in a string of meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that India is hosting this year.
Last week, Defence ministry officials of all SCO countries including China, Pakistan, Russia and Central Asia attended a meeting on military cooperation and prior to that a meeting on flood management by officials of all SCO countries was held, while ministerial meetings on defence, trade and commerce, finance are expected to be held in the next few weeks.
In May, External Affairs Minister S.Jaishankar will host all Foreign Ministers of the SCO grouping and PM Modi will host the leaders for a summit in June, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif amongst invitees.