ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Cabinet on Tuesday granted permission to arch-rival India to use its land route to ship wheat aid to neighbouring Afghanistan where millions of people face hunger as a harsh winter sets in.

Islamabad will also send aid, the prime minister's office said in a statement, including 50,000 metric tons of wheat, matching the level sent by India.

"We have approved to give passage to this 50,000 tons of wheat that India wants to send to Afghanistan," Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry told a news conference after the Cabinet met with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair.

"We think the people in Afghanistan should be helped in any way on humanitarian grounds," he said.

New Delhi has not responded to the announcement.

Pakistan has for years denied India commercial or other transport links to Afghanistan. The neighbours have fought three wars since Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947.

The office of Prime Minister Khan in its statement said Islamabad would send humanitarian assistance to Kabul worth 5 billion rupees ($28.65 million) and comprising food commodities, including 50,000 metric tons of wheat, emergency medical supplies, winter shelters and other supplies.

It also said Pakistan would facilitate the return of Afghan patients sent to India for medical treatment.

A combination of conflict, drought and COVID-19 have left millions in Afghanistan, under Taliban rule, facing hunger or starvation.

Food prices have spiked since the second drought in four years ruined some 40% of the wheat crop, the World Food Programme (WFP), a UN body has said. 

It said Afghanistan faces a shortfall of 2.5 million tons of wheat and that only 5% of its population has enough to eat.

($1 = 174.5500 Pakistani rupees)

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; editing by Barbara Lewis) ((; +923018463683;))