People count banknotes during a money distribution organised by the World Food Programme in Kabul, on November 20, 2021. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved Rs5 billion ($28 million) humanitarian aid for Afghanistan and said the country would allow the transportation of Indian food assistance through Pakistan for Afghanistan which is facing the worst humanitarian crisis.

The prime minister ordered “immediate shipment of in-kind humanitarian assistance worth Rs5 billion”, which will include food commodities including 50,000 MT (metric tonnes) of wheat, emergency medical supplies, winter shelters and other critical supplies, the official statement said.

The decision was taken on Monday at the first meeting of the apex committee of the newly established Afghanistan Inter-Ministerial Coordination Cell (AICC). PM Khan chaired the meeting attended by the country’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, National Security Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf, Advisor on Finance Shaukat Tarin among other senior civil and military officers.

During the meeting, the officials expressed concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and emphasized that “Pakistan will not abandon Afghans” during this critical time. Khan reminded the international community of the collective responsibility to support Afghanistan to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Pakistan allows Indian aid to Afghanistan via land border

Despite tensions with India, the Pakistan government has decided to allow New Delhi to transport 50,000 MT of wheat to Kabul via its land route for Afghans seeking immediate humanitarian relief. Khan directed the authorities concerned to work out the modalities with Indian officials. Pakistan would also facilitate the return of Afghan patients who had been stranded in India where they sought medical treatment, he said.

Free vaccination for Afghans

Pakistan is also offering free COVID-19 vaccination for all Afghans entering Pakistan from land borders since November 13. Khan also approved in-principle tariff and sales tax reduction on key Afghan exports to Pakistan and directed all ministries to facilitate Afghans to the maximum.

Humanitarian assistance for Afghans

Dr Moeed Yusuf briefed the civil and military leadership on the current economic situation in Afghanistan and the progress made by AICC in coordinating national efforts for humanitarian assistance and border facilitation for Afghans. PM Khan expressed satisfaction at the improved border management protocols and ordered to enhance the capacity of border staff. Pakistan would also resume the bus service between Peshawar and Jalalabad to facilitate travellers on both sides. The visa duration will also be relaxed for Afghans to grant visas within three weeks.

Pakistan’s NSA would soon visit Kabul to hold delegation-level talks and discuss specific sectors where immediate capacity-building support is required. Meanwhile, a delegation of Afghan health officials would be visiting Islamabad later this week to work out procedures to support Afghanistan’s health sector.

Afghanistan banking sector nears collapse

Also on Monday, a delegation of two senior US congressmen, US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks and Foreign Affairs Asia sub-committee Chairman Ami Bera, held talks with Pakistan’s prime minister, foreign minister and other officials. Khan said that Pakistan and US needed to “deepen engagement” with the Afghanistan government to avert a humanitarian crisis, economic collapse and “to address the liquidity issue and enable banking channels to help Afghanistan sustain its immediate economic burden and challenges.”

Afghanistan’s banking system is in a deep crisis and risks collapse, according to a report released by the UN’s top development agency. “Without the banking sector, there’s no humanitarian solution for Afghanistan,” said Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP resident representative in Afghanistan, in a statement.