Pakistan and Russia are set to hold their first-ever joint military exercises later this year, media reported today, reflecting increased military cooperation between the two former Cold War rivals. Around 200 military personnel from the two sides would take part in the joint military exercises, The Express Tribune quoted a senior Pakistani official as saying. The move comes amidst increasing defence ties between Moscow and Islamabad as the latter was also thinking to buy advanced Russian warplanes.
Pakistan’s Ambassador to Moscow Qazi Khalilullah told the newspaper that this is the first time that military personnel from the two countries would be taking part in joint military drills called ‘Friendship-2016’. He, however, did not divulge further details about the nature of the exercises or dates.
The development, Khalilullah said, reflected increased cooperation between the two countries. “This obviously indicates a desire on both sides to broaden defence and military-technical cooperation,” he told a Russian news agency last week.
The joint military drill is seen as another step in growing military-to-military cooperation, indicating a steady growth in bilateral relationship between the two countries, whose ties had been marred by Cold War rivalry for decades, the paper said. Islamabad decided to broaden its foreign policy options after its relations with the US deteriorated after secret CIA raid in Abbottabad killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Pakistan’s relations with the US were soured recently when US lawmakers blocked funds for the sale of eight Lockheed Martin Corporation’s F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. Pakistan decided to look at alternative sources to purchase the aircraft including from Jordan. Over the last 15 months, the chiefs of Pakistan’s Army, Navy and Air Force travelled to Russia. The flurry of high-level exchanges between the two nations resulted in the signing of a deal for the sale of four MI-35 attack helicopters to Islamabad.
The formal agreement, which was signed in Moscow in August 2015, was considered a major policy shift on part of Russia in the wake of growing strategic partnership between the US and India. Islamabad is eager to improve its ties with Moscow to diversify its options in the event of any stalemate in ties with Washington, The Express Tribune said. After securing a deal of MI-35 helicopters, Pakistan is also exploring options to buy Su-35 fighter jets from Russia, it said.
For this purpose, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman visited Moscow in July. The Pakistani ambassador said the PAF chief held ‘fruitful’ discussions with Russian authorities but would not provide further details of new military purchases, including the multirole, air superiority fighter Sukhoi Su-35.