First time, Pakistan opens Karachi port to let India


In a quiet, yet significant, exception to its transit policy for Indian goods, Pakistan has let Indian wheat pass through its territory to Afghanistan.

Source said about 100,000 tonnes of wheat have, for the first time, moved over the past few months from Kandla to Karachi and from there by rail and road to Torkham, the transit point on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This is part of the 250,000 tonnes of wheat India has pledged as assistance to Afghanistan.

Officially, South Block officials explained that this cannot be considered as a change in Pakistan's stand as the arrangement has been tied up in a manner to show that Afghanistan is picking up its consignment of wheat from Kandla. Technically, Afghanistan is using Pakistan for transit, not India and that is how a major obstacle was circumvented.

But on the ground, sources said, the trading activity is being carried out by Indian shipping agents who deliver the goods at Karachi, from where Pakistani transport agencies take over and deliver it at Torkham. "We have just told the Afghans to make arrangements from Torkham. Let's not forget Karachi is a busy commercial trading port and all this moves very smoothly as regular commerce, unless there is political interference," explained an insider privy to the details.

Afghanistan and Pakistan have entered into a trade and transit agreement, which was not extended to India due to Islamabad's concerns. However, it does allow Afghanistan duty-free access on a list of goods across Torkham and Chaman transit points.

Pakistan, it may be noted, has repeatedly refused transit of Indian goods through its territory even though they qualified under humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. The problem was so acute at the start, right after the fall of the Taliban, that wheat consignments would even rot by the time they reached Afghanistan through a circuitous route via Iran.

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