ISLAMABAD -  Pakistani officials say the US-led NATO military coalition in Afghanistan has offered to import vital supplies through Gwadar Port, calling it a much shorter and economically viable route into landlocked Afghanistan.

Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Hasil Bizenjo said Nato representatives proposed the idea at a recent meeting he convened with local and international business leaders. “They (Nato) are very interested and we are working on it,” Bizenjo told VOA in an interview on Wednesday.

“Nato people 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.

Gwadar port is connected to the Chaman border crossing with Kandahar through a newly constructed highway, enabling truck convoys to reach Afghanistan in fewer than 24 hours.

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 US and Nato military cargo from Karachi to Gwadar comes as Pakistan’s traditionally rollercoaster relations with the United States suffer fresh setbacks.

A US government source tells VOA a “robust ongoing” bilateral dialogue is on track between the two countries, particularly their militaries. A US 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.

Army spokesman Major-General Asif Ghafoor told VOA the contact helped remove any “apprehensions” about future cooperation. “Cooperation and not coercion is the way forward,” Ghafoor said.

Senator Mushahid Hussain, who heads the defence affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, told VOA his country has allowed US and allied forces to undertake more than “one million overflights free of charge” since 2001 to conduct counterterrorism and other missions.

“The US needs Pakistan more than we need it because of our location, because of our role and because of the options (available to Islamabad),” Hussain said. He was referring to Islamabad’s deepening ties with China, Turkey, Iran and improving relations with Russia.

The senator, however, noted that despite the latest strains in mutual ties, the GLOC and ALOC lines remain operational because Pakistan is committed to supporting efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

“Without Pakistani cooperation, our army in Afghanistan risks becoming a beached whale,” wrote former US diplomat Richard Olson in an article for The New York Times this week. “Pakistan has greater leverage over us than many imagine,” noted Olson, who served as ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan before being appointed as US special envoy for both the countries by the previous administration of President Barack Obama.