Former Cold War foes Pakistan and Russia are currently conducting joint military exercises in Pakistan’s northern highlands. These exercises, also dubbed “Friendship 2018”, include over 200 troops from both countries and are expected to go on till November 4. In line with previous military exercises this year’s exercises have stayed true to tradition and have had “counter-terrorism operations” at their center of focus.
“The aim of the military exercise is to exchange professional experiences and strengthen Russian-Pakistani military cooperation,” said the deputy chief of staff of Pakistan’s Ground Forces Gen. Lt. Syed Adnan at the opening ceremony.
The first of such exercises took place in the fall of 2016 at Cherat in Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa; it had 200 military personnel take part from both Russia and Pakistan’s side. In 2017 however the joint military drills were held in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, which again had about 200 of Pakistani and Russian troops. This year’s military exercises mark the third iteration of the annual Friendship exercises between Pakistan and Russia.
Over the past four years, both Pakistan and Russia have invested in deepening their bilateral relationship, especially with regards to military cooperation.
In 2014, Russia lifted its long-standing, self-imposed embargo on weapons deliveries to Pakistan, which was a shocking paradigm shift in Russian policy. The following year, Russia and Pakistan finalized an agreement for the procurement of four Mi-35M attack helicopters, the first of which began arriving earlier this year. According to recent reports, both countries are also considering procurement over additional military hardware. Moreover, at the August 2018 inaugural meeting of the Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC), the two countries concluded an agreement that allows Pakistani troops to receive training at Russian military institutes.
It is significant to point out that Pakistan and Russia share a single view of terrorism and security with regards to South Asia—a view that is very different from that of the US. Unlike the United States and its allies, Russia and Pakistan do not see the Taliban as the main threat to Afghan security. Instead, Moscow and Islamabad have insisted on starting peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgency. For both countries, the expanding influence of ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) is the primary threat that should take center stage in any discourse on the Afghan conflict. Hence Pakistan has largely been encouraging of Russia taking the lead in efforts towards peace-making in Afghanistan.