Pakistan, India at odds over wheat transit modalities

Islamabad proposed transportation of wheat on Pakistani trucks to be operated by the UN


Kamran Yousaf November 29, 2021

ISLAMABAD:

Islamabad and New Delhi have locked horns over the modalities of shipment of Indian wheat to Afghanistan via Pakistan as both neighbours struggle to find a common strategy for humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan, officials familiar with the development told The Express Tribune.

Last week, Pakistan decided to allow India to transport 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat and other humanitarian goods to Afghanistan through the Wagah border in a move Islamabad said was made on "exceptional basis" keeping in view the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.

The modalities for the transportation of India assistance were shared with the Indian government through its mission in Islamabad. As per modalities, Pakistan had proposed transportation of wheat on Pakistani trucks to be operated by the United Nations. The Pakistani trucks under the banner of UN would load wheat at the Wagah crossing and then take it to Afghanistan.

Read more: ‘Exceptional basis’ for Wagah transit of Afghan wheat

The shipment charges would be paid by the Indian government. India has to complete the transportation within 30 days of the commencement of first shipment. It is estimated that about 1,200 trucks would be needed to ship 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat.

But, according to diplomatic sources, India objected to the Pakistani modalities, insisting no conditions should be attached with humanitarian assistance.

Contrary to Pakistan’s proposal, India has suggested that the wheat should be transported either in the Indian or Afghan trucks. But Pakistan stood its ground, insisting the shipment should be carried out by Pakistani trucks under the UN banner.

At a regular briefing last Thursday, Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi insisted that no conditions should be attached by Pakistan to the shipment of the humanitarian assistance.

“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 examining the response of the government of Pakistan. We are also working on the modalities with the Pakistan side. We believe that humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditionalities,” he added.

Also read: India allowed Wagah transit of Afghan wheat

But Pakistani officials said Islamabad did not attach any conditions and added modalities were meant to ensure smooth shipment of Indian assistance.

A Foreign Office official while speaking on condition of anonymity said India seemed to be playing politics. "If India is sincere in sending aid to Afghanistan then it should not have any objections to our modalities," the official added.

The official further said India in any case could have transported the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan via Chabahar Port or even Karachi port.

Despite differences, one official said both sides might find a common ground and some decision is expected this week.

Pakistan has created exception by allowing India to use Wagah border to transport wheat to Afghanistan as otherwise it does not permit two way trade between Afghanistan and India. It only permits Afghanistan to exports goods to India using Wagah border.

Islamabad allowed Indian wheat to pass through its land route after the Taliban government also made a request.

Foreign Office spokesperson Asim Itikhar told reporters last week that the decision of allowing India to transport wheat was taken keeping in view the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and must not serve as precedent for future trans shipments.

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