Strategic Dimensions: Indian Wheat is Harmful for Afghans’ Health
By Sajjad Shaukat
After hosting the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, India on October 29, 2017 began shipment of 15000 tons wheat to the landlocked Afghanistan through the Iran’s Chabahar port, which was received in the Afghan city of Zaranj with jubilation. The consignment was the first out of the 1.1 million tons wheat committed by India for the people of Afghanistan on grant basis and was projected in the media mainly to celebrate the launching of the newly constructed Chabahar port. India, Afghanistan and Iran agreed to operationalize the Chabahar port only a year-and-a-half ago, when they signed agreements in relation to the US-backed Chabahar project to develop a trade route from Chabahar to Central Asia. The project has been portrayed by Indian media commentators as having changed the historical Great Game for control of the connections between South and Central Asia through Afghanistan.
Afghan officials said that the rest of the consignments were expected to arrive in different stages, and were set to be completed by the end of January, 2017.
It is notable that a huge quantity of wheat being supplied to Afghanistan in the name of grant was from the old stock and is infected. Hence, it is harmful to the health of the Afghans. Due to administrative mismanagement and red-tapism in India, a large amount of wheat stocks got unnoticed for years and ultimately expired. The Indian government’s recent move of demonetization of currency notes in the country also added to further infect these already expired stocks of wheat, as the Indian farmers did not have new currency notes to purchase seeds which were earlier being provided to them from these old stocks and they ultimately used the fresh yields as seeds.
In this respect, Pakistan’s leading business men and Director Zia-ul- Haq Sarhadi in a statement issued by the Pak-Afghan Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PAJCCI) said in December, last year that they have once again appealed to the Pakistan and Afghan authorities to review the bilateral trade policies including transit trade to promote bilateral trade between two countries—the new Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) has become the victim of sabotage since last six years. The result was that 70% Afghan trade has been shifted to Iranian ports of Bandar Abbas and Chabahar—due to lack of clear export policy, India has started shifting her wheat to Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics (CARs) through Chabahar port of Iran—Pakistan had exported 1 to 1.5 million ton of wheat, flour and self-rising flour (Maida) annually to Afghanistan.
However, rather than being purely a commercial activity, Indian supply of wheat to Afghanistan cannot be seen in isolation, it has strategic dimensions.
In this regard, the hastily-launching of the project of Chabahar port came to a head in wake of Pakistan’s Gwadar port of the Balochistan province, becoming a focus of global attention owing to the junction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC). Therefore, in order to fulfill its so-called strategic agenda with maximum projection, New Delhi provided the wheat from its expired stocks. But, with a softer Indian image, New Delhi ignored the health of millions of Afghanis who would be using this wheat as their basic food. The issue can have serious implications for the lives of Afghanis who have already been suffering from food and health crisis since long due to continuous crisis and displacements. Notably, the issue has already been discussed in various talk shows in the Kabul News TV by Anchor Wahidullah and Ghazikhel and on Shamshad TV.
It is mentionable that as part of the animosity against Pakistan, Indian government was exerting pressure on the business men and industrialists to hasten the move and subsidized Indian wheat which would drive Islamabad out of the Afghan markets. Besides, New Delhi gave general subsidy on farm inputs, which makes the Indian wheat cheaper as compared to Pakistan, while, India also offered a specific $50 per ton additional subsidy to exporters, thus driving the price further down.
It is noteworthy that Afghanistan which is in the phase of transition, moving from crisis to stability, has expressed a strong desire to join the multi-billion economic opportunity of the CEPEC, when in October 2016, Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Omar Zakhilwal, emphasized upon his country’s interest in joining the CPEC. However, a year later, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s disappointing statement regarding Kabul’s joining of the Indian venture Chabahar Port, gave a setback to the earlier progressive and pragmatic approach of the Afghan nation.
While, as a landlocked, terrorism and militancy prone nation, Afghanistan is in desperate need of infrastructural development and uplifting its economy. Thus, if Kabul joins the CPEC, an ideal environment of trilateral cooperation can be developed in the region which can benefit all parties involved.
Besides, Afghanistan can, particularly, gain enormously by not only benefiting from this Chinese investment, but also can have active role of both Beijing and its strategic partner Islamabad in bringing stability and peace in Afghanistan.
When Gwadar seaport becomes fully operational, it would connect the landlocked Central Asian states with rest of the world. Being the commercial hub, the port is likely to increase volume of trade, bringing multiple economic and financial benefits to Pakistan and China. It will enable high-volume cargo vessels to move in the major oceans by giving easy access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
In this context, CPEC is predicted to bring industrialization and investment to Pakistan, the carry-over effects of which will obviously benefit neighboring Afghanistan also. Unlike the Chabahar project, the CPEC is wider project, between deep Gwadar seaport of Balochistan and the historic Silk Road city in western regions-Xinjiang of China. Beijing would also build an international airport at Gwadar, while the roads infrastructure in Gwadar would link the communication network of rest of the country to facilitate transportation of goods. The connected roads will enable Afghan businessmen and investors to access the enormous consumer markets in South Asia, thereby increasing Afghanistan’s exports and reducing the costs of imports. CPEC can bring the three nations under a common economic, commercial and industrial umbrella which, in turn, can ensure joint efforts for peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.
Afghan nation must also take cognizance of the fact that Kabul is 1237 km. away from Gwadar, whereas the distance between Kabul and Chabahar is 1840 km. It means Gwadar is more suitable for Kabul, because, it is more than 600 km. nearer to it as compared to Chabahar. Gwadar is much more a beneficial route for the Afghanis with suitable logistic expenses.
Undoubtedly, CPEC is likely to prove as the game-changers in the region, therefore, based in Afghanistan, intelligence agencies such as American CIA, Indian RAW and Israeli Mossad are assisting terror-outfits so as to destabilize various regions of Pakistan, especially Pakistan’s Balochistan and Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan.
Notably, on June 13, 2016, a Chinese newspaper, Global Times also wrote that India is “damaging the prospects of Gwadar by investing in Chabahar to isolate Pakistan; however, it will not succeed in its designs.” The paper explained, “Pakistan’s Sindh Province saw a bomb attack against Chinese engineers…Meanwhile, the Pakistani government claimed that anti-CPEC activities by foreign forces have been busted in Baluch Province. At the Beijing Forum held in Islamabad in late May, countries including the US and Japan have shown concerns over CPEC construction and even bluntly criticized the China-Pakistan friendship. CPEC is a significant part of the Belt and Road initiative, which is not only a domestic strategy of China to open up its central and western regions, but also Pakistan’s domestic development plan as well as regional integration.”
Another strategic dimension is that India was openly opposing the CPEC and China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, the US also joined India in this respect.
As part of the double game, on October 3, 2017, US Defence Secretary James Mattis told the Lawmakers, “The United States has reiterated its support for India’s opposition to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative” the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” And the recent threat of American President Donald Trump to Islamabad, suspension of aid and encouragement of Indian role in Afghanistan are part of the covert strategic game to damage the CEPEC project. Hence, Pakistan which has already established its strategic partnership with Beijing, is also cultivating strong relationship with Russia and Iran. Thus, an alliance of Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran is likely to emerge in the near future in response to the US-Indian partnership.
Afghan rulers must also note that pro-Israeli President Trump is against Tehran. In this connection, addressing a regional summit in Riyadh, Suadi Arabia on May 22, 2017, President Trump accused Iran of supporting terrorism from Lebanon to Iraq and to Yemen—contributing to instability in the region. Moreover, in pursuance of Israeli hidden agenda, President Trump has also refused to certify the US-Iran nuclear deal. In these circumstances, Iran could abandon the Chabahar project and could also join the CPEC.
Nevertheless, taking cognizance of all these strategic dimensions, the war-torn Afghanistan must cooperate with Pakistan and China in order to make its inclusion into CPEC a reality.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations