BELGRADE – Russian troops have arrived in Pakistan on Friday to take part in two-week military exercise, a first in the two countries’ modern history. Moscow and Islamabad were on opposite sides during the Cold War.
Around 70 Russian soldiers and officers along with some 130 Pakistani counterparts are taking part in the war games called Friendship 2016, which kick-start on Saturday. The name is a symbolical reference to the old Cold War tensions between Moscow and Islamabad, which the two capitals are now trying to overcome.
On Friday, an Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane delivered the troops to Pakistan from their home base in southern Russia.
The exercise is to take place in a mountainous area in the eastern Punjab province. Both countries have long experience of counterinsurgency operations in this difficult terrain, which they want to share with each other.
The exercise was first announced in January and is a signal that “Moscow and Islamabad are interested in deepening military-to-military relations,” Pakistan’s ambassador to Moscow Qazi Khalilullah told TASS.
“This obviously indicates a desire on both sides to broaden defense and military-technical cooperation,” he said.
The Friendship 2016 drill is going ahead despite speculation that they may be canceled, which surfaced after tensions between Pakistan and India escalated in the wake of the September 18 attack on Indian troops stationed in Uri, a town in the disputed province of Kashmir.
Moscow informed New Delhi of the scheduled joint exercise with Pakistan and is certain that they should not concern India, considering that they are conducted far from the disputed territories, Zamir Kabulov, the chief or Russian Foreign Ministry’s Middle East department told RIA Novosti.
Russian military cooperation with Pakistan has been gaining pace over the past few years, making a turn from the past, when Islamabad was a key supporter of the Taliban insurgency in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
In 2014, Moscow lifted a longstanding ban on sale of arms to Pakistan. Last year the two countries signed a deal on four Russian Mil Mi-35M attack helicopters, which are meant to replace Pakistan’s aging US-made AH-1 Cobras.