BEIJING: China has welcomed the first-time participation of Pakistan and India in an ongoing counter-terrorism exercise under the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) framework in Russia. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying at a regular news briefing on Monday called India and Pakistan important countries in South Asia and said that stability in their ties was the key to peace and development in the region and the world.“We sincerely hope that they can 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,” the spokesperson added.Indian and Pakistani defence officials said that they believed that the two sides could learn from each other. The counter-terrorism drill by SCO countries, began last 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, which will continue until August 29, sees the participation of at least 3,000 soldiers from China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, India and Pakistan. The drill plays a positive role in deepening defence 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 Defence spokesperson Ren Guoqiang 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 had expanded to South Asia, Li Wei, a counter-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing, said. “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 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 local media that Peace Mission 2018 would 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 the military conflict, to enhance military exchanges and trust. This could improve regional stability,” Sun said.Published in Daily Times, August 28th 2018.