Pakistan says Afghan trucks can carry Indian aid to Afghanistan

Pakistan says Afghan trucks can carry Indian aid to Afghanistan

India discusses EU plans to staff mission in Kabul

As India stepped up efforts to send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan “without conditionalities”, Pakistan announced on Friday that it would allow Indian aid to pass through on Afghan trucks, dropping an earlier demand that Pakistani trucks be used.

The announcement came even as European Union (EU) special envoy on Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson was in Delhi, where he met officials of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the National Security Adviser’s office. He also met Pakistani Charge d’affaires Aftab Khan.

“We discussed our plans to staff positions in Kabul, get humanitarian aid in as part of a contribution of 300 million euros,” Mr. Niklasson told The Hindu about his interactions with Indian counterparts, including Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla, MEA point person J.P. Singh and Deputy NSAs Rajendra Khanna and Pankaj Saran.

The EU planned to reopen a “minimal presence” in Afghanistan, sending a small number of EU international officials and security personnel in addition to the humanitarian staff present in Kabul. Mr. Niklasson emphasised that reopening the mission in Afghanistan would in no way imply “recognition” to the “de facto regime” of the Taliban.

With Saudi Arabia sending back a team of 14 consular officials to Kabul this week, 10 countries are operating their embassies in Afghanistan, including Russia, Iran, China, Pakistan, Turkey, Qatar, UAE, KSA, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, although no country has recognised the Taliban regime.

The EU plan marks the first “western” entity to reopen its mission premises in Kabul, given that the U.S. has deputed the Qatari embassy there to manage its interests.

India yet to decide

As The Hindu reported this week, India has not yet decided on when and whether to staff its embassy that was closed on August 18, although discussions have been held over options at the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) and the MEA.

“The Indian side was particularly interested in how we deal with the challenges of bringing in and distributing humanitarian aid,” Mr. Niklasson observed, referring to hurdles posed to India’s desire to transport 50,000 tonnes of wheat and medical aid for Afghans facing acute shortages this winter over land from the Attari-Wagah crossing to Torkham, without having any presence on the ground.

On Thursday, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi stated that India was still discussing the “modalities” for the shipment, including whom to hand it over to, after it first made the proposal on October 7.

“Let me reiterate our belief that humanitarian assistance should not be subject to conditionalities and the discussions are ongoing,” Mr. Bagchi remarked, in reference to Pakistan’s refusal to allow Indian trucks to traverse through its territory, given a 2019 ban on land trade and transit from India after the government’s decision to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

In the latest development on Friday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign affairs (MFA)said it had conveyed to India’s Charge d’affaires in Islamabad its decision to allow India to send its consignments on Afghan trucks on an “exceptional basis for humanitarian purposes”.

“The Indian government was also urged to proceed quickly to take necessary steps to expeditiously undertake the delivery of the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan,” the MFA noted.

Funds release

During meetings in New Delhi, officials also discussed the demand from the Taliban, backed by the U.N. and the EU to unfreeze about $280 million in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund that was frozen by the World Bank in August. World Bank donors are now being asked to approve the release of those funds to Unicef and the World Food Programme.

In a presentation this week, U.N. special representative Deborah Lyons pointed out that Afghanistan was “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe”, caused by the financial sanctions placed on releasing funds for its collapsing economy, predicting that 60% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people face crisis levels of hunger in a food emergency that will likely worsen over the winter.

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