On Saturday, commandos from our armed forces joined troops from six other countries to kick off Kavkaz 2020—a joint military exercise held in Russia. Countries from the Central Asian Region (CAR) will be participating in the drills, with old friends such as China and Iran part of the joint military sessions over the course of the next six days. India will not be present, and its recent exchanges with China and Pakistan’s presence have been alluded to as the major reasons for not attending.

Other participating countries include Belarus, Myanmar and Armenia. While we do not have any formal diplomatic relations with the last, the presence of our staunch ally—and Armenia’s rival, Azerbaijan—as part of the observer group indicates that major powers in the region such as Russia and China are looking to bridge the gaps where possible and work towards more regional connectivity.

For Pakistan, this has long been a foreign policy goal. Over the years we have seen successive governments make overtures to regional players and try to improve contact where possible. Kavkaz 2020 is the perfect opportunity for this. Military engagement as part of an exercise is a very positive means to engage in security relations with the states present and a good way to show our prowess in all matters related to defence. Any potential to form links with CAR countries is an avenue that should be explored.

Pakistan’s defence capabilities are well-known in the international community. But with our recent development of indigenous weaponry and armaments, it is important to participate in exercises. This could work as a practical demonstration to indirectly market our hardware as well as the capability of our armed forces to stave off any threats to Pakistan. Success and failure at these drills is never taken too seriously, but it is hoped that commanding officers have a chance to engage in productive conversations on the sidelines.