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Pakistan To Conduct First War Games With Russia This Year

Pakistan and Russia will hold their first-ever joint military exercises later this year, signalling what may be an emerging realignment in South Asia amid cooling relations between Islamabad and Washington.

Senior Pakistani officials told The Express Tribune that around 200 military personnel from the two sides would take part in the war games.

Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesperson Nafees Zakariya confirmed to RFE/RL that the drills are a part of a broader warming of ties with Russia.

"Both countries are coming closer in several areas," he said. "You see that Russia has got the North-South gas pipeline contract recently. It is worth $2 billion, and not a small contract. So all these things are signifying that relations between the two countries are rapidly [growing]."

The warming between Moscow and Islamabad is occurring at the same time U.S. ties with Pakistan's biggest rival, India, have been growing. The United States recently signed a major defense and economic agreement with India and in a visit to New Delhi last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used the occasion to point some sharp criticism at Pakistan.

"Many changes are coming in the region. New partnerships are emerging and Pakistan is very carefully monitoring this," Zakariya said. "For this reason, we recalibrate our foreign policy whenever changes come and those changes affect us."

The growing ties with Russia are an outgrowth of the changes in the region and Pakistan's desire to develop closer ties with its neighbors, he said.

Not only is Islamabad seeking greater defense and economic cooperation with Moscow, but "Russia is also attaching much importance to Pakistan," he said, as evidenced by Russia's sponsorship of Pakistan to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an Asian economic group.

At the same time, Zakariya denied that Islamabad's increased cooperation with Russia amounts to retaliation for the closer ties the United States is developing with India.

It's not a "zero-sum game," he said. "Pakistan-U.S. relations are broad based. These are very old ties. Besides, we have a very extensive defense relationship" and "much cooperation in counterterrorism" with the United States.

With reporting by Express-Tribune

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