In Stratfor's 2018 Annual Forecast, we wrote that although the United States and Pakistan would take actions intended to needle the other, the two countries would grudgingly maintain their defense cooperation. That analysis has held true, as Pakistan and the United States continue to negotiate over the details of their cooperation and attempt to pursue their conflicting interests in Afghanistan.
Underneath the din of sharpening words between the United States and Pakistan, a quiet dialogue endures. Despite their harsh rhetoric, both countries are seeking to balance cooperation with coercion as they advance their respective strategies in Afghanistan. Recently, Pakistani Minister of Maritime Affairs Hasil Bizenjo revealed that Islamabad has been in discussion with NATO officials hoping to use the country's southwestern port of Gwadar to ferry supplies for the war effort in Afghanistan.
Gwadar is a Chinese-built port in the insurgency-wracked Balochistan province and a key element of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a $62 billion bundle of road, railway and pipeline projects that is part of China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. For NATO convoys, Gwadar serves as a faster, cheaper alternative for transporting supplies than the port they currently use, Karachi. They can reach the Chaman border crossing to Afghanistan in a day using Gwadar, while it can take up to a week to travel from Karachi to the Torkham border crossing in Pakistan's northwestern tribal regions.
These ground lines are a key point of leverage Pakistan holds over the United States right now. Last week, Washington suspended over $1.1 billion in security assistance to Pakistan in an effort to pressure Islamabad into taking greater action against the Taliban and the Haqqani network of anti-NATO militants operating in the country. Now, recent reports indicate Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has considered blocking U.S. supply line access in response. By dangling the carrot of Gwadar and possibly threatening the stick of limited access, Pakistan is employing a mix of pressure tactics and appeasements as it tries to manage its strained relationship with the United States.