Beijing: China on Friday welcomed the participation of militaries of India and Pakistan for the first time in a mega anti-terror drill of the SCO and hoped that the two countries could enhance dialogue and cooperation both bilaterally and within multilateral mechanisms to maintain regional peace and stability.
The anti-terror exercise of the Beijing-based Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) being held at Chebarkul town in Chelyabinsk region in Russia from August 22 to August 29 aimed at expanding cooperation among the member countries to deal with the growing menace of terrorism and extremism.
India and Pakistan are participating in the drill for the first time since becoming full members of the SCO in June 2017.
The joint exercise titled Peaceful Mission 2018 being conducted by the Central Military Commission of Russia involve tactical level operations in an international counter insurgency or counter terrorism environment under the SCO Charter.
"We welcome India and Pakistan's joint participation in this counter-terrorism exercise under the SCO framework," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a media briefing.
"These two countries are important ones in South Asia," she said, adding that stable relationship between the two countries is "significant to the peace and development of the region and the whole world."
"We sincerely hope that they could enhance their dialogue and cooperation both bilaterally and within multilateral mechanisms like the SCO, work together to improve their ties and jointly maintain regional peace and stability," she said.
At least 3,000 soldiers from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India and Pakistan are participating in the drill.
The Indian contingent of 200 personnel is primarily composed of troops from infantry and affiliated arms and services along with the Indian Air Force. Chinese military experts also welcomed the participation of India and Pakistan in the counter-terrorism drill.
The previous SCO counter-terrorism drills were mainly limited to the Central Asian nations. But due to 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 state-run Global Times.
"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 said 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.
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.
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.