ISLAMABAD (Web Desk) – Pakistan and Russia are holding their first-ever joint military exercise today (Saturday), a development that has clearly jolted New Delhi.
Around 70 Russian soldiers and officers along with some 130 Pakistani counterparts are taking part in the war games called Friendship 2016. 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 landed the troops in Pakistan from their home base in southern Russia.
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 Indian Occupied 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.
The Russian defence ministry said the exercise was aimed at strengthening and developing military cooperation with Pakistan aimed at, among other things, “eliminating illegal armed groups”, the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.
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.