New Delhi, Nov. 20: Forty thousand tonnes of high-protein biscuits meant for Afghan school children will be handed over by foreign minister Yashwant Sinha to Afghan education minister Younus Qanooni at a function here tomorrow.
Late last year, India had pledged, among other things, one million tonnes of wheat for the war-ravaged people of Afghanistan. But Pakistan made it clear that it was not willing to allow any goods from India meant for Afghanistan transit through its territory.
The UN-sponsored World Food Programme, which was initially asked to transport the Indian wheat to Kabul, tried several times but failed to make Pakistan change its decision. It was then decided that the wheat be converted into high-protein biscuits for Afghan school children.
As a result, 40,000 tonnes of biscuits are now ready for delivery to Afghanistan. It will be part of a day meal programme for the children and Indian officials feel that each child will get at least a 100 gm packet of biscuit each day they attend school.
Qanooni, who was till recently the interior minister and now also holds the portfolio of the national security adviser, will discuss the current situation in Afghanistan with Sinha and other senior Indian officials about . The Afghan minister arrived here today and plans to visit some of the important schools and colleges in Delhi.
Another area the two sides are focussing on is alternative routes that will enable Indian goods to reach Afghanistan by skirting Pakistan. As a viable option, India is thinking of developing the Chahbahar port in south-eastern Iran. India also plans to build a 200-km long road connecting Chahbahar to Kabul in order to expedite transportation of goods to the Afghan capital.
Air transport and travel between India and Afghanistan at present is solely dependent on the Ariana Airlines flights between Kabul and Delhi and they are not subjected to the Pakistani air space ban.
India has given two airbus aircrafts to Afghanistan to beef up the depleted Ariana fleet. But for transportation of goods the two sides will have to depend on road and sea links, and not air since it is much too expensive an option.
An Indian team of experts will soon leave for Kabul and Chahbahar for a preliminary survey of the area and assess the likely cost for the project. The Iranian port can also be used by India for sending its goods to the central Asian countries, an area where Delhi is keen to improve its trade links.
The issue was discussed at the preliminary level during the recent visit of the Afghan commerce minister Syed Mustafa Kazmi to Delhi. The two sides are also close to signing a preferential trade arrangement between them.
India plans to acrry out a number of projects in Afghanistan which includes infrastruture development, irrigation, hydro-electricity, mini and macro hydel schemes, roads and reviving the Indira Gandhi hospital in Kabul.
The Vajpayee government which is keen to develop strong and deep relations with Kabul recently took the decision to convert nearly $ 70 million of the $ 100 million loan extended by it to Afghanistan to a one-time grant. This apart it has helped the war ravaged country by gifting it with 100 buses, tonnes of medicines and desptached a number of doctors and medical teams to run the Indira Gandhi hospital in the Afghan capital and help the local people. Batches of Afghan diplomats and administrative officials are also undergoing trainings in different parts of India.