The Pakistani and Russian militaries will conduct a joint military exercise, dubbed Friendship 2018, involving over 200 troops from both countries in Pakistan’s northern highlands from October 21 to November 4, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced in an October 16 statement.
“The drills will be held at the Pakistani training center for special forces in Cherat at an altitude above 1,400 meters as well as at the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in Pabbi [a town in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province],” the MoD states. “Troops from the two countries will exchange experience in combat training missions in highlands as well as in fighting against illegal armed gangs.”
This marks the third iteration of the annually-held Friendship exercise. The first-ever joint military drill was held in the fall of 2016 at Cherat in Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa involving 200 military personnel from Pakistan and Russia. In 2017, the exercise took place in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Karachayevo-Cherkessia including a similar number of Pakistani and Russian troops.
“The Russian Armed Forces will be represented by over 70 servicemen of a mountain motorized rifle brigade stationed in Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Southern Military District,’” the MoD notes. The exact composition of the Pakistan Army contingent has not been announced. “The joint exercises are aimed at strengthening and developing military cooperation of the two countries,” the statement adds.
The major emphasis of this year’s exercise, like in preceding years, will be counter-terrorism operations. Pakistan and Russia share similar perspectives on terrorism-related security threats in South Asia. Notably, both countries see ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) and not the Taliban the leading threat to Afghanistan’s security—a sentiment not shared by the United States and its allies. Indeed, Islamabad and Moscow see the influence of ISIS-K in Afghanistan expanding. According to some reports, this has caused the two countries to provide the Taliban with weaponry to fight ISIS-K in northern and eastern Afghanistan. Furthermore, Pakistan has also been supportive of Russian-led peace efforts this year to end the war in Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Russia have been deepening military cooperation over the the past four years. During the inaugural meeting of the Russia-Pakistan Joint Military Consultative Committee (JMCC) in August 2018, the two countries concluded an agreement that allows Pakistani troops to receive training at Russian military institutes.
Russia has also been trying to make headway into Pakistan’s defense market. Russia only lifted a longstanding arms embargo against Pakistan in 2014. In August 2015, Russia and Pakistan concluded an agreement for the procurement of four Mi-35M attack helicopters. The first helicopter gunships began arriving earlier this year. The Pakistan Army Aviation Corps (PAAC) has reportedly expressed interest in placing an additional order for up to 20 more Mi-35Ms. Both countries are also in talks over the procurement over other military hardware.