ISLAMABAD: In what is being hailed as historic, South Asian nuclear arch-rivals Pakistan and India are getting ready to participate in a multinational counterterrorism military drill organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The drill is scheduled to be held in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region in September. Both nations, born a day apart seven decades ago, have fought four wars but, it is thought, have never engaged in combined security exercises.
Security analyst Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal brushed off the hype and told Arab News this would not be the first time Pakistani and Indian troops have worked together. “Soldiers of both armies have worked side by side for UN peacekeeping mission operations. The two armed forces are professional and with other nations participating, the training will certainly have its benefits.”
Khalid Muhammad, director general of Command Eleven, an Islamabad-based consulting and advisory firm focused on national security, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgencies, told Arab News that the interaction between the rival nation armies also presents an opportunity to learn from the Pak-army’s experiences.
“Russia, a long-time Indian ally (until recently), and China, a long-time Pakistan ally, are also part of the exercise, so we can assume that they will ensure that both nations stay on course with the exercise.”
The SCO, spearheaded by China and described as a Eurasian security, economic, and political organization, was founded in 2001 with striking similarities to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). It has eight member and six observer states.
Pakistan and India became observers in 2005 and full members in 2017. The organization’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure holds biannual security training to increase counterterrorism efficiency, cooperation and coordination between member states.
Armed forces of all member states are expected to participate in the 2018 Peace Mission training.
India confirmed its participation in April. Addressing the SCO council, Indian defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman said: “Cooperation within the SCO framework will help further strengthen India’s bilateral defense ties in the region.” Indian troops, largely from five Rajput regiments, and its Air Force officers are expected to participate, a report citing an unnamed source suggested.
Pakistan, on the other hand, has yet to formally announce its participation. In February, Qazi M. Khalilullah, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Russia, told a state-owned news agency in Moscow that Pakistan “intend[s] on participating in the exercises this year.”
The issues between both countries continue to go on unresolved. Despite both nations agreeing, last month, to implement the 2003 cease-fire agreement, intense cross-border skirmishes, especially over disputed Kashmir, have prevailed, leaving an aura of tension between both nations.
“Will there be hostilities between both? Definitely — but that is the reason China and Russia are involved. Terrorism has plagued both Pakistan and India, no matter whose soil it comes from. This (SCO) is an opportunity, a first step between both nations,” said Muhammad.