By, Vladimir Mikheev
Moscow, September 29 (Russia Beyond The Headlines): The Russia-Pakistan military exercises, under a peaceful name, ‘Friendship-2016,’ are unfortunately taking place in the wake of the unprecedented deterioration of relations between New Delhi and Islamabad.
Caught in the middle of a nasty war of words raging from both capitals, Moscow apparently does not wish to be even collaterally involved in the verbal hostilities.
Cancelling or rather postponing the military exercises with Pakistan, even in the last minute, probably would have been practical and wise for the long run.
Yet, that could have been a bit of a problem since, first of all, a short notice would not have been appreciated by any military. Secondly, it would not have gone down well with Pakistan, which will soon become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) led by China and Russia.
The outburst of bellicose rhetoric in India and Pakistan was triggered off by attack on an Indian Army base in the town of Uri in the Indian state of Kashmir by a terrorist group called Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on September 18.
This group is widely believed to be linked to the Pakistani intelligence services and was reportedly responsible for a similar attack on a military base in the town of Pathankot in the Indian state of Punjab this January.
“For one tooth, the complete jaw. So-called days of strategic restraint are over,” Ram Madhav, a prominent executive of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), posted on Facebook.
Also on the downside is the flow of truly worrying battle cries in the Indian media. “Let guns now talk with Pakistan,” to “cripple” the country and “bring them down to their knees,” a media outlet said.
On the upside, the Indian government, as the ultimate decision-maker, showed sophisticated restraint, prudence, and common sense. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad announced that New Delhi’s response “will be done with full diplomatic and strategic maturity.”
However, joint exercises by Russia and Pakistan could be interpreted by India as a sign that Moscow might be siding with a ‘sworn enemy.’ But this, of course, is not true.
Actually, there are absolutely no grounds for suspicion, whoever might harbor it, that Russia might be abandoning its privileged and strategic relationship with India.
Nor is there any sign that Moscow attempts to take an equidistant approach to the unfortunate rivalry in the turbulent region.
There is also no proof that Moscow might put on par its long-standing dialogue with New Delhi and its only recently activated interaction with Islamabad. After all, Pakistan used to be a close ally of Soviet Union’s formidable Cold War foe and sponsored the Afghan Islamist Mujahideen, who were responsible for the deaths of many Russian soldiers in the country known as the “burial ground of empires.”
The one-dimensional assumption that the ‘Friendship-2016’ drills could tilt the balance of sympathy and affect the geopolitical leaning of Moscow toward Islamabad is unworthy of any serious analysis.
The first ever drills with Pakistani military units coincide with the launch of Russia-India annual (!) counter-terrorism military drills called Indra-2016. The exercises involve an Indian motorized battalion of 250 servicemen.
Moscow has been conspicuously calm since 1992, when the Malabar exercises between the United States and India were launched. It is the sovereign right of any nation to choose allies of various grades, provided their military cooperation is not aimed at threatening time-honored friends.
Vladimir Mikheev is a freelance commentator for Russia Beyond The Headlines.