France on Thursday pressed for “decisive action” against Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), which “are targeting” India and vowed to work with New Delhi to get terrorist and JeM chief Masood Azhar proscribed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Without naming China, which has blocked a proposal at the UNSC to sanction the JeM chief, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: “The international community’s determination to combat terrorism must be the same everywhere, regardless of the threat.”
“We regret that, despite our joint efforts and wide support from the Committee, unanimity could not be reached,” he said. He has said that the JeM is already included in the Committee’s list of terrorist organisations and “therefore, there are very strong arguments in favour of listing its chief, as India has requested.”
“That was why France not only supported but also co-sponsored this request,” he said.
Country’s right to self-defence
On the cross-Line of Control (LoC) surgical strikes carried out by India in September last year after an attack on the Uri army camp, Mr. Ayrault, who is on a four-day visit to India — primarily to attend the Vibrant Gujarat Summit — said a country had a “right to defend itself” in the wake of such threats.
“Nothing can justify terrorism, which must be fought everywhere with equal determination. When a country is faced with a terrorist threat of this nature, it has the right to defend itself,” he replied.
“France has very firmly condemned the terrorist attacks against India, including the recent one in Uri, and reiterated its full solidarity with India in its combat against terrorism,” the French Minister told PTI in an interview.
Clearly referring to Pakistan without naming it, he emphasised that all countries should fight effectively against terrorism “originating from their territory or territories under their control.”
The French Foreign Minister also spoke about the scope of cooperation between India and his country in combating terror, the footprint of which is expanding and increasing in intensity.
‘We are victims of terrorism’
“France and India are both victims of terrorism, and they are in full solidarity vis-a-vis this scourge,” Mr. Ayrault said.
He said the fight against terrorism was one of the cornerstones of India-France strategic partnership.
In concrete terms, he said, France and India hold “constant and very operational exchanges” on the terrorist threat.
“We have a bilateral working group that brings together all the players concerned over counter-terrorism, and, among others, cooperation with regard to investigations and between our respective intervention units, the GIGN from the French side, and the National Security Guards from the Indian side. I welcome the development of all these cooperations,” he said.
“India, major strategic partner”
Giving an overview of the bilateral relations, Mr. Ayrault has said India is a major strategic partner for France.
“We are united by a long-standing friendship and a true relationship of trust. We know that we can count on each other, in difficult times too,” the French Minister stressed.
“Since 1998, we have a strategic partnership that enables us to cooperate on the most sensitive of subjects — defence, civil nuclear energy, space, counter-terrorism, which has assumed greater importance than ever before,” he said. He said the two countries also cooperate on other matters of security, such as in the field of cyberspace.
Besides, the two countries have “major shared ambitions” with regard to maritime security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean, where France, through its Reunion Island, forms part of Indian Ocean Rim nations, he said.
“Apart from strategic issues, we also have an overall relationship that is rich in all its facets — economy, scientific and cultural cooperation, education, research, sustainable development, the fight against climate change, and so on,” the French Minister said.
On his visit here, he said it was “very substantive and really varied,” in three different cities. “I was able to gauge the complete scope and depth of our relationship,” he said.
“I had the pleasure of participating in the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit, at which France was a Partner Country,” said Mr. Ayrault who was accompanied by a large delegation of about 100 companies, which wish to invest in India and develop partnerships.
France Alumni network
During his Bengaluru visit, Mr. Ayrault presided over the launch of the city’s chapter of the France Alumni network.
“It’s a very useful new network for Indians who have studied in France. It’s a network that is currently developing all over the world,” he said.
“Today, there are 4,000 Indian students in France, but we wish to welcome many more. Our target is to reach 10,000 students by 2020,” the Minister said. He said the development of student exchanges between the two countries was really a priority as it was on the basis of these people-to-people contacts that “one forges the most robust and closest relations.”
“I also made the most of my stay in Bengaluru to strengthen our cooperation with India in the space sector,” said Mr. Ayrault, who oversaw signing of an agreement under which French Space Agency CNES will provide cameras to TeamIndus, the only Indian team competing for the $30-million Google Lunar XPRIZE.