First shipment of Indian wheat to Afghanistan to be sent via Wagah on Tuesday
The first shipment of 10,000 tonnes of wheat from India for the people of Afghanistan will be despatched via the Attari-Wagah land border crossing on Tuesday, with more food supplies and other humanitarian assistance expected to follow in the coming weeks.
The shipment is being sent after the Indian and Pakistani sides finalised modalities for transporting the wheat via Pakistani land routes after weeks of negotiations. India first offered to send 50,000 tonnes of wheat via the Attari-Wagah crossing on October 7, and received an initial response from Pakistan on November 24. Since then, the two countries have been engaged in talks on the modalities.
The first shipment will be formally flagged off at Attari-Wagah in the presence of India and Pakistani officials and representatives of the World Food Programme (WFP), which is responsible for distributing the wheat in Afghanistan.
“The Indian government’s assistance at this juncture is highly appreciated. Food is the most needed item for the Afghan people. WFP has already helped some seven million Afghan people, and it is estimated that 22 million people – or half the Afghan population – is in need of food assistance,” said Bishow Parajuli, the WFP country director to India.
The Indian government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with WFP on February 12 for the distribution of food grains within Afghanistan. The MoU, which covers the first shipment of 10,000 tonnes, outlines the commitments and responsibilities of the Indian government and WFP and other basic conditions, and was required as the Indian side is paying for the delivery of the wheat.
WFP had described the MoU as a “landmark agreement” and thanked Indian authorities for the “generous contribution of wheat in support of the people of Afghanistan facing severe food shortages”.
Once the Afghan trucks deliver the wheat to WFP warehouses, the UN agency will take on the responsibility of moving the food grains to locations where they are needed. “We have a fleet of 176 trucks and 600 people, and we work closely with Afghan civil society. We will ensure that the people who need the food will receive it,” Parajuli said.
“We are ready to serve and work with the Indian government as necessary. We appeal to India to do as much as it can. The cold weather, displacement of people and the destruction of the economy has had a massive impact on Afghanistan. It’s heart-breaking to see children as young as 10 years shining shoes in the cold winter to earn some money,” Parajuli added.
The wheat will be shipped three days after India sent 2.5 tonnes of medical assistance and winter clothing to Afghanistan on Saturday. That was the fifth shipment of humanitarian assistance sent by India since the beginning of the year. India has so far supplied 6.6 tonnes of life-saving medicines and 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Afghanistan, and most of the aid has been sent on flights via the United Arab Emirates and Iran.
The Indian side is also exploring the option of sending more wheat to Afghanistan via Iran’s Chabahar port. Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian had said during a phone conversation with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar in January that Tehran will cooperate with New Delhi in shipping humanitarian aid, including wheat and medicines, to Afghanistan.
Though the first shipment of wheat will begin rolling out on Tuesday, several problems remain because of conditions attached by the Pakistani side. For instance, Pakistan has insisted that all 50,000 tonnes must be shipped within a month using Afghan trucks. People familiar with the matter said this would be extremely difficult as only about 40 Afghan trucks operate at the Attari-Wagah crossing every day.