NEW DELHI: France today pressed for “decisive action” against Pakistan-based terror groups like LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen which are “targeting” India and vowed to work with New Delhi to get terrorist Masood Azhar proscribed by the UN Security Council.
Without naming China which has blocked a proposal at the UNSC to sanction JeM chief Azhar, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “The international community’s determination to combat terrorism must be the same everywhere, regardless of the threat.”
On the cross-LoC surgical strikes carried out by India in September last year after an attack on Uri army camp, Ayrault said a country has a “right to defend itself” in the wake of such threats.
“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, who was on a visit here, told PTI in an interview.
Clearly referring to Pakistan without naming it, he emphasized that all countries should fight effectively against terrorism “originating from their territory or territories under their control”.
“We particularly want to see decisive action taken, in keeping with international law, against terrorist groups targeting India, particularly the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen,” he said.
The French Minister, who was on a four-day visit to India primarily to attend the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, was asked about his views on the surgical strikes carried out by Indian Army in September last to target terror camps based across the LoC in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
“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.
With regard to China blocking sanctioning of Azhar, he said, “We regret that, despite our joint efforts and wide support from the Committee, unanimity could not be reached.”
He noted that Jaish-e-Mohammad is already included in the Committee’s list of terrorist organizations and “therefore, there are very strong arguments in favor of listing its chief, as India has requested”.
That’s why France not only supported but also co-sponsored this request, he said.
“The international community’s determination to combat terrorism must be the same everywhere, regardless of the threat,” he said, in a veiled message to China.
On the future course of action on the Azhar issue, the French Foreign Minister said, “We will now discuss with India what should be done. This will be in the agenda of our bilateral working group on counter-terrorism, which will meet in Paris…India knows it can count on our support.”
China, despite presentation of a lot of evidence by India regarding Azhar’s role in terror activities in this country, had put a “technical hold” for a long time on the proposal in the UNSC to sanction the Pakistan-based terror mastermind.
Finally, it recently blocked the proposal.
Azhar, a resident of Bahawalpur in Pakistan, was one of the three terrorists freed by India in exchange of 166 hostages of Indian Airlines plane IC-184 which was hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999. Azhar, at that time, belonged to Harkat-ul Mujahideen, and soon after his release, he floated the new outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan which carried out several attacks in India, including one on Parliament on December 13, 2001.
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 intensity increasing.
“France and India are both victims of terrorism, and they are in full solidarity vis-a-vis this scourge,” Ayrault said.
He said the fight against terrorism is 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.
Giving an overview of the bilateral relations, Ayrault said India is a major strategic partner for France.
“We are united by a longstanding 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 – defense, 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 Ayrault who was accompanied by a large delegation of about 100 companies, which wish to invest in India and develop partnerships.
During his Bengaluru visit, he 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 is really a priority as it is 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 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 USD 30-million Google Lunar XPRIZE.–PTI