Pakistan has finally allowed Indian food relief of 50,000 tons of wheat for Afghan people through its territory after four months of prevarication and logistics hurdles.

As a result, Afghan trucks will run from Torkham on the Afghan-Pak border to Wagah on Pakistan’s border with India, cross to Attari to load wheat and take them home.

Contradicting its own stated policy, while pleading to the international community for rushing humanitarian aid, Pakistan appeared to have made an exception of an adversarial India by delaying permission. It stressed that it had stopped trade with India and transit permission was part of that ban.

Although India made the offer last October, Pakistan had opposed the transit for Indian goods, although it was and remains humanitarian relief in response to a United Nations appeal.

It required a visit and a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan by Amir Khan Muttaqi, Foreign Minister of the interim Afghan Government, to press the issue and get Islamabad to relent. That, again, was on December 27 last year. Working out logistics has taken another seven weeks.

In the changed stance, Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on February 14, 2022: “When we are asking the whole world to help the Afghan people, how can we stop India from doing so?”

The minister claimed that Pakistan had initially blocked transportation of Indian wheat “because it carried some disease and had asked New Delhi for its certification.”

Belatedly, the Afghans can hope to receive 50,000 tons of Indian wheat, to be made into bread for their families facing severe food shortages and economic hardship – besides a harsh winter and a rampaging pandemic.

But this could still take time. Only 60 trucks can ply daily to collect such a large quantity. The initial Pakistani permission was to complete it all in one month by the end of December, which is long past.

These logistics issues apart, it is a challenge for India to ensure that the grain reaches in palatable condition.  It had a bad experience some years back when Pakistan blocked biscuits from India sent at the UN’s behest. The consignment remained untouched for weeks and rotted.

Some procedural hurdles remain. As of now, the Afghan trucks would start collecting wheat (a total of 50,000 tonnes) from Feb 22 and the entire exercise would take a month. Logistically, this is a difficult task.

Dawn (February 14, 2022) quoted a Pakistani official as saying: “At Attari, the India authorities would facilitate the unloading of wheat bags from their trucks before their loading onto the Afghan vehicles. The Afghan trucks would then return to Wagah border where Pakistan Rangers would carry out a detailed security check and the customs authorities check the commodity. After clearance, the trucks would be dispatched for Afghanistan via Torkham where they would be checked again.” The drivers would also be issued temporary authorisation certificates by the customs authorities (transit trade department) at Torkham. The authorities would email the barcode on the certificates to the customs authorities at Wagah after checking which trucks would be allowed to cross the border,” the official said.

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