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India sends first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar port in Iran bypassing Pakistan

In a landmark move towards realising an alternate strategic transit route to land-locked Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan, India despatched the first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar port in Iran.

The first shipment, which left Kandla port to go via Chabahar port in Iran, was flagged off through video conferencing by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani.

"The shipment of wheat is a landmark moment as it will pave the way for realisation of Chabahar port as an alternate, reliable and robust connectivity for Afghanistan," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.

This is the first time India is using the Iranian port and its railway system to reach battle torn Afghanistan. With Winter approaching the mountainous country, the wheat consignment from India will be a boon to th war torn country.

The swift decision to move wheat by ships came immediatley after New Delhi shot down Islamabad's offer of land passage through Pakistan for movement of goods to Kabul.

Pakistani offer of transit passage to Kabul for Indian goods was made by no less a person than the country's army chief General Qamar Javed during his recent meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at Kabul on October one.

During the meeting held to renew the Afghanistan Pakistan transit trade agreement President Ghani had expressed concern that trade with India through the Wagah border had been blocked by Pakistan despite being agreed to in the trade agreement.

The Pakistan army chief responded by saying that India should take up the matter with them and that he would sort out the issue. India however felt that it was not a real offer and hence decided not to pursue it.

Pakistan has been consistently opposing India's move to transport goods to Afghanistan by road and instead asked New Delhi to transport goods through Karachi port. The dialogue with Pakistan on transit arrangement have not fructified during the last fifteen years. The wheat shipment through the Iranian port Chabahar should be seen in this context said sources in the external affairs ministry

"I am delighted that today we have joined a momentous occasion for the people of the three countries," Swaraj said, describing the move as an important step in realising the shared aspirations to carve out "new routes" of peace and prosperity.

"The wheat that is leaving the Indian shores today, is a gift from the people of India to our Afghan brethren. It is a testament to the continued commitment of the government and the people of India to support our Afghan brethren in building a normal, peaceful, prosperous, secure and bright future for themselves," Swaraj said.

This is an important step towards establishing regional connectivity initiatives, particularly as the world remains enamoured of China's grand OBOR project. A senior Indian diplomat "This large shipment will establish the viability of a new commercial route, realising a long-standing Afghan dream and filling a critical gap in India's connectivity."

The wheat shipment is also a logical conclusion to a process started soon after the Taliban was ousted from Kabul in 2001, when India started lending its political and economic resources to help rebuild a shattered Afghanistan.

Even as early as in 2002, Pakistan blocked India's efforts to send wheat to Afghanistan during a food-scarce year. India donated 1 million metric tons of wheat to the World Food Program (the largest single donation in its history) in the form of high-energy fortified biscuits for WFP's school feeding programme, thus beginning a long assistance relationship with Afghanistan.

In June this year, India and Afghanistan had launched an air freight corridor between the two countries to boost trade as Pakistan continues to deny land transit access through its territory. The current Afghan president Ashraf Ghani recently threatened reciprocal measures if Pakistan refused to abide by an Af-Pak trade and transit agreement to allow goods from India to traverse through Pakistan.

"The people of India, Afghanistan and Iran have been connected through shared commonalities of art and culture, ideas and knowledge; language and traditions. Today, we are rejuvenating these connects and commonalities. I believe that this is the starting point of our journey to realise the full spectrum of connectivity," Swaraj said.

The moving of the shipment was made easier by a trilateral agreement to establish an international transport and transit corridor signed by PM Narendra Modi, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and Iranian PM Hassan Rouhani in May 2016.

Earlier this year, India also signed the global TIR Convention, which removed a persistent hurdle for India's international connectivity projects. India's accession will be a big boost for the Chabahar and the North-South corridor project.

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