ISLAMABAD: When chief military spokesman Lt-Gen Asim Bajwa tweeted the arrival of Russian troops in Rawalpindi on Friday for the first-ever military exercise between the two Cold War era foes, it was clear that the seismic event would upset geo-strategic balance in the region and beyond — forever.
This was good news for Pakistan — both diplomatically and militarily. Diplomatically, because the two-week-long ‘Druzhba 2016’ (Friendship 2016) military drill is being conducted at the High Altitude School in Gilgit-Baltistan and a special forces training centre at Cherat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
This wasn’t good news for India, because it reportedly tried its best to prevail upon Russia to call off the exercise, citing ‘well-known sensitivities’. For Pakistan to conduct a major military exercise with Russian troops in the territory could be perceived as a big diplomatic win.
Militarily because it indicates that Russia is interested in learning from Pakistan’s military counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. Moreover, Russia can also use the exercise to showcase some of its military hardware useful for Pakistani COIN operations, including combat aircraft and infantry weapons. Moreover, watching Russian troops land in Pakistan is altogether a new experience in the region for political and military pundits. They presuppose that it’s a red line that Moscow has breached and things may never be the same again. After all Indians have asked Moscow to either choose Pakistan or India.
Talking about the far-reaching consequences of such cooperation, Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence Committee Mushahid Hussain Sayed on Sunday said: “This is a positive development and a definite breakthrough in the Pakistan-Russia relations that have moved beyond the Cold War adversarial ties to a blossoming bilateral bond, based on the absence of any conflict of interests, now developing into a military relationship as well.”
Mushahid agreed that the exercise could lead to a long-term relationship between the two countries.
In a loosening great power universe, the realignment has brought Pakistan, China and Russia closer to each other. This is a function largely of Russia’s worsening ties with the US. In Afghanistan, Russia believes IS is the real threat, not the Taliban, something Pakistan is at pains to push. Brigadier (retd) Said Nazir Mohmand says that the military relations between Pakistan and Russia will “create understanding and both will know about each other’s skills, tactics and expertise”.
“The use of ground and tactical skills will also help develop friendship,” Mohmand told The Express Tribune on Sunday. When asked why Russia, a long-time ally of India, chose to start military exercise with Pakistan, the former military officer argued, “There are no permanent friends and there are no permanent enemies in international relations.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 27th, 2016.