The US-led Nato military coalition in Afghanistan has offered to import vital supplies through Gwadar, calling it a much shorter and economically viable route into landlocked Afghanistan.
The Chinese-built-and-operated, Arabian Sea port of Gwadar is in the southwestern Balochistan province adjoining Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, which hosts one of the five U.S. military bases in the war-shattered country.
Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Hasil Bizenjo, told VOA the Nato representatives proposed the idea at a recent meeting he convened with local and international business leaders in capital Islamabad.
“They [Nato] are very interested and we are working on it,” Bizenjo told VOA in an interview.
The port– gateway to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is now connected to the Chaman border crossing with Kandahar through a newly constructed highway, enabling truck convoys to reach Afghanistan in less than 24 hours.
Currently, Nato supplies are shipped through the Karachi Port, where they are then placed on trucks and transported on a week-long journey to neighboring Afghanistan via the northwestern Torkham border crossing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
“NATO told us it would be extremely convenient for them in terms of quick transportation of supplies from Gwadar directly to Kandahar. They are very interested and we are working on it,” Bizenjo said.
The coalition of about 16,000 troops in Afghanistan, known as Resolute Support, is dependent on ground lines of communication and air lines of communication, known as GLOC and ALOC, through Pakistan for receiving supplies.
Pakistan earned the status of non-NATO ally for allowing U.S.-led international forces to use these supply lines to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and oust the Taliban from power.
Bizenjo said companies dealing in Afghan transit trade also want their cargo to be shipped completely through Gwadar.
“Another meeting with Pakistani business and Nato representatives and Afghan transit trade dealers has also been scheduled to further the discussions, Bizenjo said, without saying when.
The proposal to redirect U.S. and NATO military cargo from Karachi to Gwadar comes as Pakistan’s traditionally rollercoaster relations with the United States suffer fresh setbacks.
A U.S. government source told VOA a “robust ongoing” bilateral dialogue is on track between the two countries, particularly their militaries. A U.S. military delegation was in Islamabad on Monday. Late last week, Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had a phone conversation with General Joseph Votel, the CENTCOM commander.
Pakistan is considered the safest and cheapest route to resupply NATO troops. Other possible routes that go through Iran and central Asian countries are more expensive and pass through a region Russia considers its backyard (Another alternative supply route requires Russia’s consent, an equally awkward arrangement.). Tensions between the United States and Russia have been high since Moscow was accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
“Without Pakistani cooperation, our army in Afghanistan risks becoming a beached whale,” wrote former U.S. diplomat Richard Olson in an article for The New York Times this week.