According to a military spokesman a number of Russian military units have arrived in Pakistan this Friday.
The forces are set to take part in the first ever joint military drill between the two nations, which is set to start on Saturday, according to IANS. The move comes at a time of great tension between India and Pakistan over the ongoing violence in Kashmir.
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200 Russian soldiers arrive in Pakistan
“A contingent of Russian ground forces arrived Pakistan for first ever Pak- Russian joint exercise,” tweeted Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces.
Around 70 Russian troops will take part in the military exercises. The drills were earlier said to have been cancelled due to the killing of 18 Indian soldiers at a military base in Indian-held Kashmir on September 18. Russia is historically an ally of India, while Pakistan has traditionally cooperated more closely with China.
The exercise will last for two weeks and has been named “Friendship 2016.” It brings together armed forces from two nations that were at loggerheads throughout the Cold War. The Pakistani media reports that drills will continue until October 7 at the Army High Altitude School in Rattu and at a special forces training center in Cherat area.
A contingent of Russian ground forces arrived Pak for 1st ever Pak- Russian joint exercise (2 weeks) from 24 Sep to 10 Oct 2016 pic.twitter.com/eWzQMlENL6
— Gen(R) Asim Saleem Bajwa (@AsimBajwaISPR) September 23, 2016
Joint drills show increasing military cooperation
Details of the exercises have not been revealed. However it is thought that they will take place in “mountainous areas.”
Commentators believe that the joint exercises show how military cooperation is deepening between Moscow and Islamabad. “This obviously indicates a desire on both sides to broaden defense and military-technical cooperation,” said Pakistan’s ambassador to Russia, Qazi Khalilullah.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that the exercises aimed to strengthen and develop military cooperation. News of the planned joint exercises was met with some discomfort in India,
Indian officials had received word that part of the exercises would be conducted in Gilgit-Baltistan. Indian External Affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said this was “part of Indian territory.”
Swarup said that India’s “well-known sensitivities” had been communicated to Russia.
Russia and Pakistan enjoying closer relations
However a senior Russian diplomat spoke out on the matter, reassuring India that the exercises would not be undertaken in any disputed areas. Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s director of the Second Asian Department, said that India should not be concerned.
India has looked on warily as Russia and Pakistan have grown closer in recent years. Relations between the two nations were rocky for a long time following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, however things have improved.
Russia has taken steps to improve relations with Pakistan as India has shifted its defense procurement to the U.S. and Israel, rather than Russia. In response Russia lifted an embargo on arms sales to Pakistan in 2014.
Since then several deals have been struck. In 2014 four Mi-35 attack helicopters were sold, much to the anger of India. In the following years there have been persistent rumors that Pakistan is looking to buy more military hardware from Moscow, such as Su-35 combat jets.
Geopolitical situation is incredibly complicated
In a further sign of improved relations, Pakistan’s army, navy and air force chiefs have visited Russia in the past year or so. Islamabad is apparently seeking more international allies after its relationship with the U.S. hit a rocky patch.
U.S. lawmakers recently blocked the sale of eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, which caused indignation. The geopolitical situation in South Asia remains highly complicated, with plenty of competing interests to consider.
Historical enmity between India and Pakistan shows no signs of abating, especially not in the light of the recent attack on the Indian military base. New Delhi believes that Islamabad masterminded the attack, and some elements in India are calling for revenge.
At the same time India has engaged in closer relations with the U.S., moving away from a historically strong relationship with Russia. As a result Russia has opened the door to a closer relationship with Pakistan, both for strategic reasons and to drive arms sales.
The question for strategists is how China fits into the picture. A long-time enemy of India, China has strong relations with Pakistan. If a Russia-China-Pakistan triumvirate were to form, India could find itself painfully short of allies in a potentially volatile region.
Pakistan on the other hand appears to be doing well to cultivate cordial relations with various potential partners. In this way Islamabad may find some success in counteracting Indian attempts to isolate it as a terrorist state.