As unrest continues over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in some parts of the country, France on Monday it is an “internal matter of India” and “we respect that”. Making this assertion here, French Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain said his country believes in freedom of religion.
He also said though an advisory was issued to French citizens travelling in India to avoid certain places due to disturbances, France did not change the rating of India nor issued any demarche.
Interacting with reporters, the French envoy said it is not correct to issue any public comment on an internal matter. “India is a democracy and when there are conflicts in views of people then they can approach institutions like the Supreme Court which can competently take a decision. I don’t think it is apt for any country to comment on the domestic matter of India. We believe in freedom of religion and it is not for us to comment on the matter,” he said.
Asked if the Indian Government briefed countries on issues like abrogation of Article 370 giving special status to Jammu and Kashmir and the Citizenship Act, Lenain said discussions take place at various levels regularly on all issues.
Briefing mediapersons on the entire gamut of India-France relations, he said fight against terrorism is an important aspect and both the countries share intelligence and other operational details.
Fielding a question about cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan, he said “nobody can say Pakistan fulfilled its commitment” to address the issue.
Observing that the international body Financial Action Task Force (FATF) against terrorism has given Pakistan a deadline till February next year to stop terror finance, the French envoy said “we are very strict. Not an issue to be taken lightly and we will maintain pressure.”
Regarding joint fight against terrorism, he said India and France are victims of this scourge and lauded the role of India in taking part in the first ever international conference hosted in Paris on financing terror last year. Australia will host the next session followed by India thereby indicating the seriousness attached to the issue, Lenain said.
On growing ties in maritime security, he said the two countries have increased their commitment in this sphere and share data besides soon starting joint patrolling. He also said India will deploy P8I maritime surveillance aircraft.
He made these observations in the backdrop of both the countries in an effort to protect their strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region deciding to embark on joint patrolling. The Indian maritime surveillance plane will be deployed with the primary aim to check illegal fishing.
In fact, last week visiting French Navy Vice Admiral Didier Maleterre said, who is Joint Commander of the French forces deployed in the Indian Ocean region, also said the two navies will ink an agreement early next year providing for sharing of classified information for better operational cooperation in the region.
Giving this information here during a media interaction, he also expressed concern over China expanding its maritime influence in the region, including through strategic bases like Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, Gwadar port in Pakistan and a key military facility in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
Maleterre said following the attacks on two tankers in south of the Strait of Hormuz around five months back, India decided to deploy one of its frigates in the area to protect the sea lines of communication. Similarly, the French government also decided to permanently deploy one frigate in the area. The Strait of Hormuz in the Indian Ocean Region is a key area through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil supply is shipped.
On the proposed Indo-French pact to facilitate sharing of classified information, he said it would be a rare occasion to have such an arrangement by France with a non-Nato country. Maleterre said both Indian and French navies are going to have high-level operations featuring carrier battle group, submarines and amphibious ships.
He said both India and France share same political objectives for the Indian Ocean Region and that the high-level engagement between the two navies will further expand in the coming years.
The commander, who is also chief of the French Joint Forces stationed in the United Arab Emirates, said Indian and French navies are also considering carrying out joint patrols in North Western part of the Indian Ocean including the Gulf of Aden.