Russia and Pakistan will hold their first-ever joint military exercises starting this weekend, Pakistan’s military said on Friday.
The drills, scheduled to be held from September 24 to October 10, come at a time of heightened tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi over a deadly attack in Indian-held Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers.
Pakistan's top military spokesman, Lieutenant General Asim Bajwa, said a "contingent of Russian ground forces" arrived in Pakistan for a two-week exercise beginning on Saturday.
A contingent of Russian ground forces arrived Pak for 1st ever Pak- Russian joint exercise (2 weeks) from 24 Sep to 10 Oct 2016 pic.twitter.com/eWzQMlENL6
— Gen Asim Bajwa (@AsimBajwaISPR) September 23, 2016
In recent months ties between Russia and Pakistan have improved.
Pakistani defence and security analyst Hasan Askari said the exercise "signifies Russian desire to expand their options in South Asia," adding it was the "natural" result of closer Indian ties with the US.
Islamabad has also been negotiating a deal to buy combat helicopters with Moscow.
"These helicopters were to be supplied this year but now they are likely to arrive in 2017," Askari said.
On Thursday, the Pakistan Air Force launched Highmark Exercise, shutting down sections of the motorway leading out of the capital to land "several" combat aircraft for the first time in six years, a senior security source told Agence France Presse.
— Pak Armed Forces (@Pak_ArmedForces) September 23, 2016
Pakistani officials said Highmark is a routine exercise, with a senior security official telling AFP that preparations, including setting the dates it would take place, had begun around one year ago.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakariya said in Islamabad on Thursday that the moves were regular and routine.
The drill came as India and Pakistan traded angry words over an attack on an Indian Army base in disputed Kashmir that Delhi has blamed on Islamabad.