Pakistan on Monday green-lighted a donation of 50,000 metric tons of wheat to Afghanistan, as it accelerated the process of facilitating trade and travel of people across the border while there is an absence of any major assistance from the international community.
A senior official of the Ministry of National Food Security and Research confirmed that the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet convened in Islamabad and agreed on the 50,000 metric tons wheat in donation.
Islamabad has matched a similar offer by New Delhi that it had given many weeks ago. However, the delivery of the Indian wheat has been on pending due to the non-resolution of logistic issues between both countries.
Last month, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had warned that unless steps were taken urgently, millions of Afghans would face starvation this winter. It said that over half of the Afghan population – around 22.8 million people – are at the risk of acute food insecurity, while 3.2 million children under-five could suffer acute malnutrition.
Following the Taliban takeover on August 15, the global community, including the Muslim world, has failed to provide any meaningful support to the battle-weary country under the pretext that the Taliban have not fulfilled promises on a broad-based inclusive government and the rights of women.
Although Pakistan has sworn to support the Afghan people, its ambitions remain unfulfilled owing to the scarcity of resources. Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced Rs5 billion or $28.4 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan in an Apex Committee meeting of the Afghan Inter-Ministerial Coordination Cell (AICC).
As per the ministry of national food security and research, this aid includes a donation of 50,000 metric tons of wheat worth around Rs2.5 billion. The ECC was communicated that Pakistan had sufficient stocks available to provide the commodity to Afghanistan.
As of last week, the government-owned Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation (Passco) reported 2.7 million metric tons of wheat. Pakistan has so far imported 1.9 million metric tons of wheat during this fiscal year to meet domestic shortages.
The food ministry stated that following the release of all obligations, the country will have a net stock of 771,578 metric tons by the start of the food year 2022. The finance ministry has been instructed by the ECC to bear the expenses that will be incurred during the supply of 50,000 metric tons of wheat, with the logistic cost included.
According to reports, a senior government official shared that the apex committee meeting of the AICC made the decision that the already announced Rs5 billion in-kind support to Afghanistan should be expedited.
As per reports, the committee decided that life-saving drugs worth Rs500 million would be supplied to Afghanistan. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), will be providing winter supplies and shelter including 1,500 tents, 8,500 blankets, and a tarpaulin of 14,000.
According to reports, the prime minister has instructed the finance ministry and the establishment division to accelerate processing the pending summaries for additional posts at the Western border. They also added that any remaining amount from the designated Rs5 billion would be used to provide rice.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has asked for 509 additional posts, while Customs Department has demanded 312 posts for the smooth functioning of the bilateral trade.
PM Imran also asked for a review of the possibility of lowering Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) fares for Afghanistan, which were discovered to be higher compared to other airlines. The PIA chairman will review the possibility to decrease the fares and submit a proposal to the apex committee.
A proposal suggesting starting a bus service between the two countries has also been discussed. In this regard, the communication ministry, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan governments will devise an implementation plan for the bus service for Peshawar-Jalalabad and Quetta-Kandahar routes.
Reportedly, Pakistan, in principle, had also approved a scheme under which skilled Afghan refugees, who were willing to work in Pakistan, could be paid salaries in Pakistan while maintaining their POR cards.
For this purpose, the state and frontier regions (Safron) ministry will be identifying the number and skill proficiency of Afghan refugees, eligible under the scheme, and come up with an actionable proposal to the apex committee for final approval of the prime minister.
According to reports, the decision to relax the visa restrictions to facilitate the movement of people has been made as well. The government would also address the issue of overstaying Afghans in Pakistan. Reportedly, the government of Pakistan might allow the travel of Afghan children under-12 without a passport.
The government has also decided to facilitate international organizations’ staff who plan on working in Afghanistan. It has also reduced the time allowed for security clearance of visas for Afghans in the categories that need security clearance from 30 days to 15 days.
In case of no response, the clearance would be deemed to have been granted and the visa would be issued thereafter by the Pakistani mission and consulate, as per reports.
The commerce ministry has also been instructed to revisit the Afghan export items for which transit rationalization could be undertaken, considering the need to remain as flexible as possible at this time of need for Afghanistan, according to reports.