Members of the Shanghai Cooperation Orgnisation (SCO), including both India and Pakistan, will take part in a joint counter-terrorism exercise likely to be held in grasslands of Kazakhstan in the Sary Arka region this year. “The SCO member states will hold a joint anti-terrorism exercise ‘Sary-Arka-Antiterror 2019,” the Council of Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of SCO said on Friday.
The exercise was announced during the 34th meeting of RATS, a key SCO mechanism, held in Tashkent in Uzbekistan Friday. India and Pakistan became full-members of the SCO, headquartered in Beijing, in 2017 and took part in war games of the group held in Russia last year.
It was the first time that the armies of India, Pakistan, and China took part in a military exercise along with the other members of the SCO — Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan.
For the 2018 exercise, India had picked a 200-soldier contingent from the 5th battalion of the Rajput Regiment; New Delhi also dispatched a small Indian Air Force regiment for the drills.
The latest RATS statement did not give details about when the 2019 exercise will be held.
There is no doubt, however, that the exercise will attract international attention. It is a rare occasion for Indian and Pakistan soldiers and officers to be part of a friendly exchange in the backdrop of decades-old enmity and a history of war and violence.
This year’s RATS exercise will take place in the shadow of the Pulwama terror attack in February, the bombing of a terrorist camp deep inside Pakistan by Indian warplanes and the subsequent engagement between the Indian and Pakistan air forces near the Line of Control (LoC).
In the run-up to their becoming full-members of the SCO in 2017, doubts had, in fact, been expressed whether the open hostility between India and Pakistan could, jeopardise the group, which is run under the umbrella influence of Beijing and Moscow.
Experts say that it is expected that the diplomatic influence exerted by Beijing and Moscow – and the SCO charter — will not allow the two new members to bring their bilateral differences to the SCO table to disrupt the group’s functioning.
Taking part in SCO wargames is also seen as a way to increase friendly interactions between the armed personnel of India and Pakistan who have fought three wars over the years.
Chaired by Russia, Friday’s meeting also declared plans to hold the first stage of joint border operation “Solidarity 2019-2021”, the seventh meeting of the heads of the border services, and training workshops on identifying and preventing the use of the Internet for terrorist, separatist and extremist purposes.