Counter-terror ties boost South Asian stability: observers
The counter-terrorism drill by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) countries, scheduled to begin on Wednesday, is the largest under the SCO charter with the participation of India and Pakistan for the first time, and Chinese experts say the drill will greatly contribute to stability in Central and South Asia.
The joint drill, Peace Mission 2018, which will be held in Russia until August 29, will see the participation of at least 3,000 soldiers from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India and Pakistan, and 10 representatives from Uzbekistan will serve as observers.
Seven hundred Chinese soldiers will participate in the drill, including an armored tank battle group, an air combat group and a special force group. They arrived in Chebarkul, Russia on Saturday, PLA Daily, the newspaper affiliated with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), reported on Monday.
The main areas of the joint drill include field reconnaissance, joint strikes, and counter-terrorism operations in residential areas. The drill plays a positive role in deepening defense and security cooperation among member countries, enhancing capacity in tackling new threats and challenges, and safeguarding regional peace and stability, China's Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said at a regular press conference in July.
Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant at the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, told the Global Times on Wednesday that sending three combat groups of ground and air forces to the drill means that Chinese soldiers could easily adjust the composition of its combat team depending on the number and location of terrorists.
"Chinese teams could adapt to mountainous regions with its tank combat group and special force group, and its air force could better help locate terrorist camps," Xu said.
The previous SCO counter-terrorism drills were mainly limited to Central Asia. But because of the entry of India and Pakistan, the SCO's counter-terrorism mission has expanded to South Asia, Li Wei, a counter-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
The SCO was established in Shanghai in 2001, with China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as founding members. It expanded to include India and Pakistan in 2017.
"The effective counter-terrorism cooperation among SCO countries has greatly undermined terrorist groups in Central Asia in recent years, and it's expected that this effective cooperation will also boost stability in South Asia, a region facing a more complicated counter-terrorism situation with a variety of active terrorist groups," Li said.
Sun Zhuangzhi, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Peace Mission 2018 will also greatly improve military and political mutual trust among SCO countries, especially between India and Pakistan.
"It's a rare opportunity for Pakistan and India, which have long been involved in military conflict, to enhance military exchanges and trust. This could improve regional stability," Sun said.
Indian soldiers to Peace Mission 2018 have arrived in Russia. The Indian Air Force tweeted Tuesday, "New place, new environment, different language. But it took just a few moments to start understanding each other."
Li said future counter-terrorism drills among SCO countries have to come up with new drills on targeting terrorist groups in South Asia. He suggested that the SCO further expand to include Afghanistan, which is currently an observer country, to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts in South Asia.
Peace Mission 2018 also created a historic chance for four major military powers in Eurasia - China, Russia, Pakistan and India - to participate in the same military drill.
"But it's worth pointing out that the four military powers in Eurasia will not form joint military troops to threaten Western countries, as SCO's military drills are open and transparent and are meant to contribute to regional and world stability," Sun said.