Russia has clarified that it was not holding any ‘anti-terror exercise’ with Pakistan in ‘Azad Kashmir’ or in any other sensitive or problematic areas like Gilgit and Baltistan.
"The only venue of the exercise is Cherat. All reports alleging the drills taking place at the High Altitude Military School in Rattu are erroneous and mischievous," the Russian Embassy said in a statement in New Delhi on Friday.
"Contrary to some reports appearing in a section of the press, the Russia-Pakistan anti-terror exercise is not being held and will not be held in any point of so-called 'Azad Kashmir' or in any other sensitive or problematic areas like Gilgit and Baltistan," it added.
The statement assumes significance as there have been reports from Pakistan that a mechanised infantry unit of the Russian military arrived in Pakistan on Friday to participate in the first-ever joint military drills dubbed 'Friendship-2016' starting from Saturday.
Moscow also said hat it sees no reason for India to be concerned about the first-ever joint military exercise by Russia and Pakistan.
“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,” Zamir Kabulov, the chief of Russian Foreign Ministry's Middle East department said.
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 that is claimed by India -- and at a special forces training center in Cherat, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
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 Russian 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.