India’s gesture of sending 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan as humanitarian aid, announced in October, has turned into a political football between Pakistan and India, as the two countries quibble over how the wheat is supposed to cross Pakistan on its way to Afghanistan. The catch is that this involves the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. As a landlocked country, Afghanistan has a right of passage across Pakistan, but it does not have the right to import goods from India using Indian trucks. Pakistan is not treating the Indian gesture as a humanitarian gesture so much as an Indian wish to wang its way out of the ban on its vehicles. India is also apparently treating the matter not as a humanitarian crisis, but as a means of creating a precedent which it could fling in the face of future Pakistan governments.
Meanwhile, as both sides quibble, the winter gets harsher in Afghanistan, and the crisis there gets deeper. This is no longer a crisis merely of governance, but one where people have begun to starve to death, with babies among the dead. It should also be noted that the cold is worsening the effects of winter, with respiratory diseases killing patients who would have lived if they had been better fed.
Pakistan should remember that if it insists on the letter of the law, India will never let it, or the Afghan government, forget that its obstinacy let Afghan children die of starvation. It should also keep in mind that Indian attempts to exploit the situation will not work unless there is a pro-New Delhi government in Kabul, which is not the case. While the new government has to prove its pro-Pakistan credentials, it is certainly not pro-India. However, Pakistan’s failure to provide passage will work to India’s advantage in two ways. First, it will undermine the Taliban regime, which could be replaced by pro-Indian elements. Even if the Taliban survive in power, they might be riled up against Pakistan, and thus Pakistan could be responsible for turning a friendly government against it. India can go on playing games if it likes; Pakistan must not forget the hungry.