Pakistan has linked its decision to allow India to transport 50,000 tonnes of wheat and medicines as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to the condition that the relief materials be moved by Pakistani trucks, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Officials of the two sides are engaged in discussions to find a solution to the impasse, especially in view of the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.
The Indian side is keen on using its own trucks as it wants to ensure that the relief materials directly reach the Afghan people without being diverted in any manner. The Indian side also envisages that the aid will be distributed only through the UN, the people said.
India proposed shipping wheat and life-saving medicines to the people of Afghanistan via Pakistani soil on October 7 and received a response from the Pakistan government only on November 24. The people said Pakistan had attached several conditions to the shipment of the relief materials, besides the use of Pakistani trucks, but declined to go into details.
It is understood that the Pakistani side is also seeking shipment charges from India for the use of its trucks.
The people pointed out that the process of unloading and loading the relief materials at the Wagah land border crossing would add to the logistical issues associated with the transportation of the goods.
The Indian side has repeatedly said in recent weeks that there should be unimpeded and unhindered access to Afghanistan for relief supplies and that the United Nations should play a central role in humanitarian efforts.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had made it clear at a news briefing on Friday that no conditions should be attached by Pakistan to the shipment of humanitarian aid.
“This was about humanitarian access into Afghanistan for the delivery of the 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat and life-saving medicines we are supplying to the people of Afghanistan,” he said.
“We are also working on the modalities with the Pakistan side. We believe that humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditionalities,” he added.
A joint communiqué issued after a meeting of foreign ministers of the Russia-India-China (RIC) mechanism on Friday had called for “immediate and unhindered humanitarian assistance to be provided to Afghanistan” in view of the deteriorating humanitarian situation.
Pakistan has for long opposed two-way trade between India and Afghanistan via the Wagah land border crossing. It allowed the former Afghan government to export goods to India via the crossing but barred any transportation of Indian goods to the Afghan side.
There are currently no flights between India and Afghanistan, and transporting the materials via Pakistan was seen as the quickest way of getting aid to the Afghan people, who are grappling with food shortages.
Pakistan had said recently that it would allow the transportation of Indian wheat and medicines via the Wagah border on an “exceptional basis” for humanitarian purposes and as a goodwill gesture towards the Afghan people.
Even a Taliban delegation led by acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, that recently visited Islamabad, had raised the issue of allowing the shipment of the wheat with the top Pakistani leadership.
The UN has warned up to 23 million Afghans will be in “crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity” as winter sets in. Ten out of 11 of Afghanistan’s most densely populated urban areas are anticipated to be at emergency levels of food insecurity.