Even as Russian troops arrived in Pakistan for the first-ever joint military exercise by the Cold War rivals, Moscow has said it sees no reason for India to be concerned over the drill.
"We were informed by the Russian Defense Ministry that these exercises will not be carried out in [disputed] areas, and a place was chosen that has nothing to do with this. Hence there is no reason for India to worry about it," Sputnik reported, quoting Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of the Second Asian Department, as commenting to RIA Novosti on Friday.
However, 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 — which is in Astore district of Gilgit-Baltistan, an area that is claimed by India — and at a Special Forces Training Centre in Cherat, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
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-occupied 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".
"A contingent of Russian ground forces arrived in Pakistan for first ever Pak-Russian joint exercise," tweeted Lt. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media wing of the Pakistan armed forces.
"This obviously indicates a desire on both sides to broaden defence and military-technical cooperation," Pakistan’s ambassador to Russia Qazi Khalilullah told a Russian news agency last week.
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".