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India to Ship 20,000 MT of Wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar

The MEA announced on March 7 that India will send its next consignment of wheat to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime via Chabahar. The decision was announced at the first meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Afghanistan in Delhi, following the expiration of an agreement with Pakistan to extend the time for sending wheat via land route, and talks to extend the time have failed.

Shivam Dwivedi
More than 80% of the world's opium and heroin is smuggled out of Afghanistan
More than 80% of the world's opium and heroin is smuggled out of Afghanistan

While India had sent approximately 40,000 metric tonnes (MT) of the 50,000 MT promised last year following an agreement with the previous PM Imran Khan government, the shipments had to be cancelled due to floods in Pakistan, and the time period allowed by Pakistan had expired.

Prior to 2021, India used the Chabahar route to ship wheat to Afghanistan. "To address the current humanitarian situation, the Indian side announced its partnership with UNWFP (UN World Food Programme) for the delivery of 20,000 MTs of wheat for Afghan people through the Chabahar Port," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement following a meeting of senior officials and envoys from India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

The JWG meeting comes more than a year after the India-Central Asia summit in January 2022, which announced the formation of a special contact group on Afghanistan. At the JWG, India also agreed to provide "customized capacity building courses" for UNODC officials and stakeholders, as well as collaborate on initiatives to combat drug trafficking and rehabilitation efforts for Afghan drug users, particularly women.

However, the release did not specify whether the training would be provided through the Indian Mission in Kabul, which has a 'technical team' stationed there, or whether the government would grant visas to Afghans travelling to India for the training. At the moment, India has cancelled all visas issued to Afghans prior to August 20, 2021, when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, and has not issued new visas to Afghan students or others wishing to visit the country.

According to UNODC reports, opium production has increased by nearly a third in the last year, particularly since the Taliban seized control of Kabul. More than 80% of the world's opium and heroin is smuggled out of Afghanistan, where an estimated 3 million people, or nearly one-tenth of the population, are addicted to the drugs. Drugs, the export of terrorism and radicalism, and refugees have been top priorities for Central Asian neighbouring countries.

The JWG also emphasized the "importance of forming a truly inclusive and representative political structure that respects the rights of all Afghans and ensures equal rights of women, girls, and members of minority groups, including access to education," according to the joint statement. No terror organisations, including UN designated terrorists, "should be provided sanctuary or allowed to use the territory of Afghanistan," it added.

The meeting comes as other Indian and Central Asian officials (except Turkmenistan) participate in a series of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meetings that India is hosting this year.

Last week, officials from all SCO countries, including China, Pakistan, Russia, and Central Asia, met on military cooperation. Prior to that, officials from all SCO countries met on flood management, and ministerial meetings on defence, trade and commerce, and finance are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

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