In a counterterrorism meeting in Paris on Tuesday, France and India agreed to work more closely together in security issues and discussed terrorist threats in their respective regions. The French side was represented by Philippe Bertoux, director for strategic affairs, security and disarmament in the French Foreign Ministry, and the Indian delegation by Mahaveer Singhvi, joint secretary (counterterrorism) in the External Affairs Ministry. Although not said in any official statements, it is evident that the meeting had Pakistan in mind.
The French and Indian delegations exchanged views on banning terrorist individuals and organizations, and shared information on their priorities for pursuing sanctions and designations against terrorists. They also underlined the need to ensure that Afghanistan’s territory “does not become a source of radicalization and terrorism, regionally or globally, and is never again used to threaten or attack any country or to shelter, recruit or train terrorists, or to plan or finance terrorist attacks in accordance with the UNSC Resolution 2593”. New Delhi is concerned that because of Pakistan’s traditional support for the Taliban, Afghanistan will turn into a terrorist hub that can be aimed against India.
In an indirect reference to Pakistan, a statement issued after the French-Indian joint working group on counterterrorism said that the two sides condemned all forms of terror activities, including cross-border terrorism. The joint statement also “stressed the need for all countries to ensure that territories that are under their control cannot be used to plan [and] launch terrorist attacks against any other country, shelter or train terrorist fighters.”
According to the Hindustan Times, France has consistently backed India’s efforts at multilateral forums such as the UN Security Council and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to counter the activities of Pakistan-based terror groups and individuals. Paris also played a key role in the Security Council’s sanctioning of the founder of the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist organization, Masood Azhar.
India has been engaged in recent years in relationship building. This has seen New Delhi breakout of its traditional sphere of influence in South Asia and be more engaged with Europe, Africa, Central Asia and East Asia. However, it has also seen India break from its traditional position of non-alignment by becoming a member of the anti-China QUAD formation that also comprises of the US, Japan and Australia. This is in the belief that it will better secure its land borders with China and counteract Chinese support for Pakistan. Although New Delhi has tense relations with Beijing and appears to be aligning more closely with Washington, this does not affect its relations with Moscow, especially in the economic and military fields.
New Delhi’s global engagement also opens opportunities to be closer to Paris, especially since the latter is seeking more “strategic autonomy” from Washington, particularly after the AUKUS debacle further cemented French animosity towards the Angloworld. By the French having close relations with India, it further consolidates its presence and influence in the Indian Ocean region, something of particularly importance since France has several Indian Ocean island possessions like Mayotte, Réunion and Îles Éparses.
France seeking closer relations with India is also in response to Pakistan’s emboldened attempts to isolate the European country from the Islamic World.
It recalled that Pakistan instigated tensions with France following the October 2020 beheading of Parisian schoolteacher Samuel Paty by Chechen teenager Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov. Rather than offering condolences, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan blasted French President Emmanuel Macron as an Islamophobe for defending Paty's display of cartoons depicting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, in a class about freedom of expression. Anzorov justified his murder of Paty as depictions of Muhammad are forbidden in Islam. In addition, Pakistan's Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari compared Macron's supposed treatment of Muslims in France to the way Jews were treated by the Nazis, tweeting that “Macron is doing to Muslims what the Nazis did to the Jews.”
Following the outburst from the Pakistani government on the domestic affairs of France, waves of protests swept across Pakistan, with some burning effigies of Macron and others crying “death to France”. Calls for boycotting French products was widespread.
On the back of this Francophobia, Paris has sought to strengthen its relations with India. As Pakistan is a hotbed for terrorists, especially since the country’s feared Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency directly funds, trains and coordinates with several terrorist organizations like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, France fears that its already existing terrorist issue could be galvanized if Pakistan turns its resources against it. It must be noted that the Pakistani diaspora, like the one in the United Kingdom, has a disproportionate amount of community members engaged in terrorist and other criminal activities.
By France and India cooperating on issues of security and terrorism, they are making an action against Pakistan. The Indian military often clashes with Pakistani-backed terrorist organizations in Jammu and Kashmir, while France is concerned of its near 5 million Muslim residents being radicalized. In this way, both India and France have found it necessary to coordinate in matters of security and counterterrorism, especially as they both face a Pakistan that provides state-backing to terrorist organizations and is hostile to both countries.