As Russian troops landed in Pakistan on Friday for the first joint military exercises, Moscow, taking note of India’s concerns, denied the military drills were being held in “so-called Azad Kashmir” or in sensitive areas like Gilgit and Baltistan, but in an area in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The Russian embassy in New Delhi, in a statement, said: “Contrary to some reports appearing in a section of the press, the Russia-Pakistan anti-terror exercise is not being held and will not be held in any point of so-called “Azad Kashmir” or in any other sensitive or problematic areas like Gilgit and Baltistan.”
“The only venue of the exercise is Cherat. All reports alleging the drills taking place at the High Altitude Military School in Rattu are erroneous and mischievous,” it said.
Cherat is located in Nowshera district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan. Rattu is in Astore district in Gilgit Baltistan, an area claimed by India.
Russian troops arrived in Pakistan on Friday for the first-ever joint military exercise by the Cold War rivals.
The Pakistan media said that the tactical drills will be held from September 24 to October 7 in the Army High Altitude School in northern Pakistan’s Rattu and at a Special Forces Training Centre in Cherat.
India had earlier conveyed its concerns to Russia over the proposed military exercises.
“There has been continuous communication between MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) and our counterparts in Russia,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in his weekly media briefing here on Thursday.
“This issue was also discussed at a very high level — at the inter-governmental commission — that was held between India and Russia,” he said.
Describing Pakistan-administered Kashmir as part of sovereign Indian territory, Swarup stated: “So, our sensitivities in this regard are well known internationally and given our privileged and strategic partnership with Russia, we have rightfully conveyed our concerns to them.”
The Russian statement came soon after its military personnel taking part in the drill arrived in Pakistan, belying earlier media reports that Moscow had cancelled the exercise in the wake of the terror attack that killed 18 soldiers at an army camp in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir, on September 18.
About 200 servicemen from both sides will be participating in the exercise, called Druzhba-2016 (Friendship-2016).
“The objectives of the joint exercise include developing cooperation between ground forces of the two countries, improving tactical abilities of the participating military personnel and developing a foundation for future interactions,” the Pakistan embassy in Moscow said in a statement.
It said the exercises were a “manifestation of the desire” of Islamabad and Moscow “to enhance bilateral cooperation in all fields of mutual interest including defence”.
Analysts have noted a warming of Pakistan’s ties with Russia, even as its ties with its long-term ally, the US, seem to be cooling.
Pakistan is particularly looking to Russia for arms. Reports said Moscow recently secured a deal for four Mi-35 attack helicopters, even as Islamabad is also exploring the possibilities of buying Su-35 fighter jets.
The two countries signed a military cooperation agreement in 2014 to enhance defence cooperation.
Incidentally, India on Friday signed a deal with France for buying 36 Rafale multi-role combat jets “off the shelf”.