The nuclear-armed militaries of Pakistan and India, at the behest of China, are scheduled to participate in unprecedented joint military counter-terrorism drills in Russia next month as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an eight-member Eurasia coalition led by Beijing.
Founded in Shanghai in 2001, the SCO is an economic, security, and political alliance that includes China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
From August 22 to 29, an estimated 3,000 troops from SCO member states will engage in counter-terrorism military drills in Russia.
India’s the Print news outlet notes that the exercises are expected to be held “at the Chebarkulsky (meaning ‘beautiful, colorful lake’ in Turkic) training ground on the slopes of the Southern Urals in Russia.”
“The latest in the ‘Peace Mission’ series could see nearly 3,000 troops of eight Shanghai Cooperation Organization member states storming an imaginary town whose residents have been held hostage by terrorists,” it adds.
Acknowledging that China convinced its ally Pakistan to participate in joint counter-terror military drills for the first time, the Print, alluding to the war-games reveals, “This would be the first time the armies of India, Pakistan and China would be involved in a friendly military exercise, along with the other members of the SCO – Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan.”
On May 3, Voice of America (VOA) also noted:
In an unprecedented move, nuclear-capable South Asian rivals India and Pakistan are gearing up to take part in joint military drills. Last week, Indian Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman confirmed that India would participate in anti-terrorism military drills alongside Pakistan. … Pakistan acknowledges that it agreed to conduct military patrols alongside India after the Pakistan chief of army staff, General Qamar Bajwa, recently visited Russia.
Reportedly, the upcoming military drills are the latest in a series of SCO exercises carried out by the alliance’s Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS).
In June 2017, the China-led organization accorded full member status to India and Pakistan.
Currently, the SCO considers Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia to be “observer states,” a designation shared with India and Pakistan until June of last year.
The SCO has deemed Azerbaijan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Armenia, Cambodia, and Nepal “dialogue partners.”
China and Russia are considered to be the coalition’s most influential members.
Beijing has long served as one of Pakistan’s top economic and military partners, long providing Islamabad funding and military assistance to counter the perceived threat from rivals India and its ally the United States.
Pakistan and India are engaged in a stand-off over claims to the Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir that have increasingly prompted deadly clashes despite a 2003 ceasefire between the to nuclear-armed neighbors.
China also contests part of Kashmir as its own, but it has largely stayed on the sidelines of the India-Pakistan dispute, backing Islamabad over New Delhi whenever necessary.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over territorial claims over Kashmir. Clashes along the border the separates their respective regions in Kashmir continue on a fairly regular basis.
According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China “exploits the longstanding rivalry between India and Pakistan” over issues like Kashmir “to ensure its own ambitions in South Asia are achieved.”
“This strategy aims to keep India so preoccupied with its western neighbor [Pakistan] that it will not have the ability to mount a serious challenge to China’s power and influence in Asia,” the commission noted.