India has underscored its concern over the sale of military hardware by France to Pakistan in the name of fighting terror.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony conveyed New Delhi's disquiet over the development when French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet called on him here on Thursday.

Acknowledging that the issue was raised, Mr. Longuet said here on Friday that his country had sought clarifications from Islamabad.

“[India's] concern about weapon sales [by France to Pakistan] was raised… the military equipment is for electronic communication interception… we have discouraged any requirement for naval equipment,” Mr. Longuet said in an interaction with journalists on Friday at the end of his two-day visit. France had earlier supplied Agosta submarines to Pakistan.

Responding to a question on the nature of France-Pakistan relations after Osama bin Laden was found and killed in Abbottabad by the U.S. forces, the French Minister said terrorism could not be the weapon of anyone or any government and Paris was awaiting the outcome of the dialogue on it Washington was having with Islamabad.

Joint exercise

On relations with India, he said that while engagement between the defence industries was decades old, the nature of ties with the military was growing. He announced that soon the armies of both countries would undertake a joint exercise named ‘Shakti', similar to the bilateral ‘Garuda' between the two air forces and ‘Varuna' between the navies.

Mr. Longuet's visit came at a time when the French Dassault Rafale is competing with the four-nation European consortium Eurofighter for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender of the Indian Air Force.

On his part, Mr. Longuet sought to impress that in the MMRCA deal, the French had a unique distinction. “We have one single speaking partner [Dassault] instead of four partners [European firms from Italy, Germany, Spain and U.K]…,” he said.

The French military equipment comes with three points — guarantee of availability of spares, no restriction on the use of equipment and offer to upgrade equipment as technology evolves.

Scorpene delay

As for the delays in construction of six French Scorpene submarines in Mazagon Docks, the Minister said the programme was on course and initial late run occurred since the dockyard had to be modernised to build the submarines. The project is three years behind schedule, with the first submarine expected in 2015.

In addition to the MMRCA, the French are eagerly awaiting a decision by the Indian government to clear the upgrade programme for the Mirage2000 fighter aircraft. The Minister said the decision was in the final phase. On his part, the French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont said negotiations over the price were over.

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