New Delhi: With a grave humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, India on Monday said it is willing to stand by Afghans and called for unimpeded access to aid providers to the country as also a "non-discriminatory" distribution of relief supplies across all sections of the society.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that as an immediate neighbour, India is monitoring developments in Afghanistan with "understandable concern", and noted that the issue of travel and safe passage that can emerge as an obstacle to humanitarian assistance should be immediately sorted out.
In a brief virtual address at the UN high-level meeting on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the minister also heightened the threat of rising poverty levels and said the same could have a catastrophic effect on regional stability.
He said India's approach to Afghanistan has always been guided by its historical friendship with its people and it will continue to be the case.
"Today, I wish to underline that in the face of a grave emerging situation, India is willing to stand by the Afghan people, just as in the past. To ensure that this happened speedily and effectively, we believe that the international community must come together to create the best possible enabling environment," he said.
"Among the challenges that the current situation poses is that of efficient logistics. It is therefore essential that humanitarian assistance providers are accorded unimpeded, unrestricted and direct access to Afghanistan," Jaishankar said.
The external affairs minister said once relief materials reach that country, the world will naturally expect a "non-discriminatory distribution of humanitarian assistance across all sections of the Afghan society".
"Only the United Nations has the capacity to monitor such endeavours and reassure donors. As the picture becomes clear in respect of the legitimate concerns I am confident that the world will step forward and assist the Afghan people in their hour of need," he said.
His comments came in the backdrop of apprehensions of whether the relief materials, once delivered, will reach the intended beneficiaries under the Taliban regime.
"Afghanistan is passing through a critical and challenging phase. There has been a sea change in its political, economic, social and security situation, and consequently, in its humanitarian needs," he said.
"As an immediate neighbour, India's monitoring developments with understandable concern," he added.
Jaishankar said India has consistently supported a central role of the global body on the future of the country as a multilateral platform is always more effective than small groups in building global consensus and encouraging united action.
In his comments, he also said the UN Security Council resolution 2593 should guide the international community's approach in the coming days in Afghanistan.
The UNSC resolution, adopted on August 30 under India's presidency of the global body, demanded that Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter and train terrorists and plan or finance terrorist attacks.
The external affairs minister also referred to an assessment by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that there is an imminent threat of the poverty levels rising from 72 to 97 per cent in that country.
"This would have catastrophic consequences, not just in our collective fight against poverty, but also for regional stability. Even as we address that, it is important that the issue of travel and safe passage that can emerge as an obstacle to humanitarian assistance be immediately sorted out," Jaishankar said.
He said those who wish to travel into and out of Afghanistan should be granted such facilities without obstruction.
"The normalisation of regular commercial operations of Kabul airport would not only assist in that regard but then become the basis for a regular flow of relief material. This would also accelerate activities that would complement domestic relief measures," he said.
Jaishankar also listed India's contribution to the humanitarian requirements of Afghan society in the past.
"This included providing more than one million metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan over the past decade. Last year too we have assisted Afghanistan with 75,000 metric tonnes of wheat," he said.
The minister said India has also partnered World Food Programme for the distribution of high protein biscuits over several years and that the innovative scheme particularly supported vulnerable school going children of Afghanistan.
"India's efforts and helping the Afghan people have been both direct and indirect way of contributing to the livelihood and larger framework as significantly as they have to direct material leads. Our friendship is reflected in Indian development projects that today exist in all the 34 provinces," he said.
Jaishankar said India has invested more than US dollar 3 billion for the welfare of the people of Afghanistan.
"We have undertaken 500 projects in critical areas of power, water supply, road connectivity, healthcare, education, agriculture and capacity building," he said.