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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 22:29 GMT


World: South Asia

Taleban to import wheat from Pakistan

A 7 kg bag of flour now costs $3, up from less than $2 a month ago

The ruling Taleban authorities in Afghanistan say a deal has been struck with Pakistan to import vital supplies of wheat to ease acute food shortages.


The BBC's Kate Clark: "Much of Afghanistan's economy has been devastated by its long war"
Many urban Afghans face hunger this winter following a poor harvest and the introduction by Pakistan's military rulers of new anti-smuggling controls.

The movement's ambassador in Islamabad, Sayed Mohammad Haqqani, told the BBC that agreement had been reached with Pakistan to import thousands of tonnes of wheat through the border posts of Torkham and Chaman.

The Taleban on Tuesday had urged Pakistan to lift restrictions on wheat exports, saying flour shortages had reached alarming levels.


[ image: Afghans queue for food]
Afghans queue for food
The BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says the accord does not appear to lift the general ban on private traders exporting Pakistani wheat.

A spokesman for Pakistan's Food and Agriculture Ministry, quoted by the official APP news agency, confirmed the country had sufficient wheat stocks to make supplies available.

But he said the Taleban request had not yet been approved by the government.

It "would be considered ... and a decision would be taken, keeping in view the domestic demands and availability of stocks", he said.

If the deal was approved, "wheat would be supplied to them [the Taleban] at market prices".

Hunger

Afghans are so short of wheat flour - their main food staple - that Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil has said many could starve to death this winter.

Wheat prices in Kabul have more than doubled in the last six weeks, and are still rising.

The United Nations has estimated that if the price of bread does not fall, as many as half of Kabul's population will be unable to feed themselves properly this winter.

The wheat shortage coincides with UN sanctions imposed on the Taleban for refusing to surrender Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, who is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges which he denies.

Trade talks

The aviation and financial sanctions, which came into force on Sunday, do not affect humanitarian aid.

Senior Taleban trade negotiators remain in Islamabad discussing a number of bilateral trade issues.

Mr Haqqani was quoted by the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) as saying "successful discussions" had been held.

Pakistan, he said, had agreed to release several containers which have lain at Karachi port since last year.

Pakistani customs authorities had blocked the containers, fearing there was no market for the goods in Afghanistan and that they would be smuggled back to Pakistan.

Mr Haqqani said Pakistan had agreed to release 101 items but he gave no details.



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