Let the food pass

Pakistan’s delay in responding to India's request to allow passage of foodgrains to Afghanistan is worrying

Two facts are beyond dispute. First, that Afghanistan is facing an acute humanitarian and food crisis, brought about by a constellation of factors, including the takeover by the Taliban and a prolonged drought. Second, even though New Delhi has insisted — along with many other regional and global powers — that the Taliban regime must demonstrate that it will respect human rights and act as a responsible government that does not export terror, it is keen to provide assistance to the people of Afghanistan in their time of need. And given that as of September 1, India had its highest-ever stockpile of wheat and rice, New Delhi is well-placed, and keen, to provide food aid to Afghanistan. The Taliban, after a meeting with Indian representatives at the Moscow Format last month, was welcoming of Indian aid. Given this context — regimes, demand, supply and need aligning perfectly — the delay by Pakistan in responding to India’s request to allow the passage of foodgrains through the land route to Afghanistan is worrying.

Last month, India sent a note verbale to Pakistan asking it to allow the movement of trucks carrying 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan. The land route through Pakistan is essential in this regard because the volume of the foodgrains makes transport by air difficult, if not impossible. The matter also requires some urgency: With winter approaching and a financial crisis gripping the nation, food shortages are all but certain soon. Other countries, including China and Turkey, have already begun the distribution of foodgrains. Given the resources, familiarity and goodwill India has among the people of Afghanistan, India wants to — and should be — on the ground assisting people in need. While Islamabad has not denied permission yet, its delay is a cause for concern. The sheer scale of the aid India seeks to provide means that managing the logistics of the transport operation needs to begin sooner than later.

At international fora, including at the Moscow Format, Pakistan’s representatives and leaders have spoken of the need for the global community to assist the people of Afghanistan during this period of crisis. Its delay in granting permission for the transport of food aid invites questions about that stated commitment: Is their suspicion of India so great that Islamabad and Rawalpindi are trying to delay — through bureaucratese, if nothing else — the provision of food to a suffering people? Are strategic insecurities greater than basic humanitarian concerns? If not — and hopefully, that is the case — Pakistan must allow India to provide the aid that Afghanistan needs.

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