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India began the new year by handing over half a million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan on Saturday. The consignment is part of a million-strong vaccine supply that will be completed within the coming weeks, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has said. It will be one of the largest-ever humanitarian assistance projects from India to Afghanistan consisting of wheat and other medicines to be organised in coordination with U.N. agencies.
The Taliban has welcomed the initiative.. Second change is add this para as number three from top: Appreciating India’s gesture, Taliban’s “Permanent Representative Designate” to the United Nations, Suhail Shaheen told The Hindu, “Our people are passing through a critical time now. We welcome and appreciate humanitarian assistance by your country. It is a positive humanitarian step.”
“The Government of India is committed to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghan people consisting of foodgrains, one million doses of COVID vaccine and essential life-saving drugs,” said the Ministry. Saturday’s delivery is the second such assistance that India has provided to the Taliban-ruled country in less than a month.
On December 11, the first consignment of 1.5 tonnes of medicines was sent. The Ministry announced that Kabul will receive half a million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Pakistan, Iran, UAE, China, Russia and Qatar are among those that are also supplying medicines and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. India supplied COVID-19 vaccines in February 2021 but the latest delivery is the first time since the Taliban’s arrival in August.
“In the coming weeks, we would be undertaking the supply of wheat and the remaining medical assistance. We are in touch with U.N. agencies and others for finalising the modalities for transportation,” an official press statement said. India has been seeking “unimpeded” access to the Afghan people to ensure equitable and “non-discriminatory” supply of humanitarian assistance across the country which is experiencing a harsh winter following a famine.
Following the takeover by the Taliban, the health infrastructure was crushed by a mix of exodus of educated and trained medical personnel and lack of supplies. One of the key concerns for the safety of vaccines will be the condition of the facilities that will store the perishable consignment. But sources expressed confidence that the vaccines will be kept at the Indira Gandhi Children Hospital in Kabul which still has good storage facilities.
India has not formally recognised the Taliban administration as the legitimate ruler and has been demanding that the international community should go slow in granting de jure status to the new rulers who unleashed a violent campaign for two decades against the successive governments under President Ashraf Ghani and President Hamid Karzai as well as the U.S.-led foreign forces.
However, since last September, New Delhi has been urging the international community to ensure delivery of humanitarian goods to ease the suffering of the common Afghan people. The Hindu reported earlier that India and Pakistan have been in talks over finalising the modalities that would allow trucks from India and Pakistan to carry essential food items to Af-Pak border posts like Torkham, Chaman and others.