Pakistan permits transit of Indian wheat to Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Monday announced the government’s decision to allow the 50,000 MT of wheat India has offered to provide Afghanistan as humanitarian assistance to go through Pakistan as soon as modalities are finalised with the Indian side, an official statement said.

“Pakistan will also facilitate the return of Afghan patients who had gone to India for medical treatment and are stuck there,” the premier announced, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

India last month announced the assistance for Afghanistan and sought Pakistan’s permission to ship the food grain through the Wagah crossing. Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who visited Islamabad earlier this month, also made a request to PM Imran for letting the Indian wheat pass through the Wagah crossing.

The prime minister had said that Pakistan would “favourably consider” the request and directed the authorities to work out modalities.

The development is significant given the current state of bilateral ties between Pakistan and India and also keeping in mind that Pakistan does not otherwise allow a two-way trade between Afghanistan and India. Islamabad only allows Afghanistan to export its goods through the Wagah border to India.

Importantly, the Taliban government in Afghanistan is ready to accept humanitarian assistance from India, which otherwise does not maintain any contact with them. But since the Taliban took control of Kabul, there have been efforts on part of India to reach out to the Taliban.

The announcement was made during his visit to the newly established Afghanistan Inter-Ministerial Coordination Cell (AICC), where he chaired the first Apex Committee meeting of AICC.

The meeting was attended by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Adviser on Finance Shaukat Fayaz Tarin, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf and senior civil and military officers.

The prime minister instructed all ministries to facilitate Afghans to the maximum, ordering an immediate shipment of in-kind humanitarian assistance worth Rs5 billion, which will comprise food commodities including 50,000 MT of wheat, emergency medical supplies, winter shelters and other supplies.

He also approved in-principle tariff and sales tax reduction on key Afghan exports to Pakistan. He ordered that the facility of free Covid vaccination for all Afghans entering Pakistan from land borders be continued.

According to the PMO statement, PM Imran announced Pakistan’s decision to allow the 50,000 MT of wheat India has offered to provide Afghanistan as humanitarian assistance to go through Pakistan as soon as modalities are finalised with the Indian side.

Welcoming the prime minister, Dr Moeed, who is also the convener of AICC, made a detailed presentation to brief the civil and military leadership on the current economic situation in Afghanistan and the progress made by AICC in coordinating national efforts for humanitarian assistance and border facilitation for Afghans.

PM Imran appreciated the work of the AICC in coordinating Pakistan’s policy and expressed satisfaction at the improved border management protocols.

He ordered that capacity of border staff be enhanced further and instructed that no arbitrary closures of borders for trade should be allowed.

The prime minister, the statement said, also ordered that bus service between Peshawar and Jalalabad be revived to facilitate travellers on both sides. “To further facilitate Afghans, the visa duration will be relaxed such that visas are granted within three weeks at the most.”

According to PMP, the participants expressed concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and emphasised that Pakistan will not abandon Afghans in their time of need.

The prime minister took the opportunity to remind the international community of the collective responsibility to support Afghanistan to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

He highlighted that Afghans were one of the bravest nations on earth who can meet any adversity but that the world owed its support to ensure that they can live in a peaceful and stable environment after years of constant conflict.

A senior delegation of Afghan health officials will visit Islamabad later this week to work out modalities for Pakistan’s support to Afghanistan’s health sector.

Meanwhile, the premier instructed the NSA to visit Afghanistan to hold delegation-level talks and agree on specific areas where immediate capacity-building support shall be provided to Afghans.

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