Russia and Pakistan are slated to hold their first ever joint military drill in the coming months, according to local media reports. Around 200 military personnel from Russia and Pakistan will participate in the exercise, a senior Pakistani defense official told The Express Tribune. Both sides have revealed little else about the drill, dubbed Friendship 2016, except that it will take place in mountainous areas.
Neither the exact time of the exercise nor its precise location are known.
The fact that the exercise takes place in mountainous terrain could be an indication that Russia is interested in learning from Pakistan’s military counterinsurgency (COIN) operations. Given the latter’s extensive experience in battling insurgents and Russia’s growing role in the Syrian Civil War, this could very possibly be the case. Russia could also use the exercise to showcase some of its military hardware useful for Pakistani COIN operations, including combat aircraft and infantry weapons.
The military exercise is a clear signal that Moscow and Islamabad are interested in deepening military-to-military relations. “This obviously indicates a desire on both sides to broaden defense and military-technical cooperation,” Pakistan’s ambassador to Russia, Qazi Khalilullah, told a Russian news agency.
Russia’s TASS news agency first announced the joint drill in January of this year. “As part of interaction with our foreign colleagues in 2016, we have scheduled seven joint exercises with the involvement of the relevant units of foreign states. The Army will hold the Russian-Vietnamese exercise and the first ever Russian-Pakistani special drills in mountainous terrain,” the Russian Army commander-in-chief, General Oleg Salyukov, said at the time.
The chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, General Valery Gerasimov, met his Pakistani counterpart, General Rashad Mahmood, in late August to discuss deepening military cooperation between the two countries. “The development of constructive relations between Russia and Pakistan is an important factor in ensuring regional stability and international security,” Gerasimov told reporters.
Gerasimov also emphasized that Russia and Pakistan are planning an “intensive program” of joint activities in the months ahead including more military exercises, military exchanges, and talks at the general staff level. The major reason for Russia’s interest in deepening relations with Pakistan will remain selling more Russian-made military hardware (e.g., the Sukhoi Su-35S multirole fighter jet) to Pakistan’s military.
Russia only lifted a longstanding arms embargo against Pakistan in 2014.
In August 2015, Russia and Pakistan concluded an agreement over the purchase of four Mi-35M attack helicopters. The Mi-35M is the export version of the Mi-24 gunship, and is particularly suited for mountainous terrain and can be deployed in adverse weather conditions. The Russian helicopter is slated to replace Pakistan’s fleet of obsolete U.S. made AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, primarily deployed in counterinsurgency operations in the country.