All de-escalation steps have come from India: France
13 December 2002
PARIS: The importance France accords the continuing dialogue with India was underscored by the fact that Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, President Chirac''s Diplomatic Adviser, who has been nominated to conduct the Indo-French strategic dialogue postponed his trip to Copenhagen on Thursday for the critical summit on European enlargement to host a working lunch for Brajesh Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and India''s National Security Adviser. Mr. Mishra made a brief stopover in Paris on his return from Washington in an attempt to get to know his counterpart who will lead the French side in talks in New Delhi next month. Mr. Gourdault-Montagne congratulated India on the developments in Kashmir and reportedly told Mr. Mishra that Paris had noted the fact that all de-escalation measures had come from India despite continued Pakistan-sponsored terrorist activity in Kashmir. This marks a turnaround in French policy. For, while Paris has always been sympathetic to India''s concern over Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, senior officials speaking to this reporter had expressed scepticism about the possibility of holding free and fair polls in Jammu and Kashmir. France is a major player within the European Union, the G-8 industrialised nations group and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. It has also been the first Western nation to initiate a strategic dialogue with India. Now, with a stronger France both within the European Union and on the world stage, New Delhi hopes to deepen and widen its ties with Paris. President Chirac''s re-election last May with a record margin of votes and the sweeping victory won by his conservative political family in the legislative polls that followed has also given him a free hand to decide on matters both internal and external. Rid of the cumbersome system of cohabitation, the new French team at the helm of affairs exudes confidence, flair and imagination. Mr. Chirac has trusted lieutenants with proven track records for diplomacy and an understanding of geopolitical subtleties. The Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, who served in India in two different capacities, continues to be Mr. Chirac''s eminence grise on foreign policy. Mr. Chirac recently called another old India hand Maurice Gourdault-Montagne to his side as special diplomatic adviser and it is he who will lead the French side in the strategic dialogue scheduled to take place in New Delhi next month. The new French Ambassador to New Delhi, Dominique Girard, headed the Asia and Oceania desk at the foreign office; so there is continuity in change. Coming closer to home, India is looking into several spheres of cooperation with Paris, particularly in the defence and civilian nuclear energy areas. In both these fields, the French have extremely advanced technology and hardware to offer. While Paris fully understands India''s concern that Pakistan-sponsored terrorist activity continues unabated or that not enough is being done to curb Pakistan internationally because of the new U.S.- Pakistan axis against terrorism, India''s pleas for economic sanctions against Pakistan are likely to fall on deaf ears here as they have in Washington. France has in the past advised India to open a dialogue with Pakistan while relentlessly cracking down on terrorist activity. New Delhi has been at pains to explain why it is not in a position to talk a nation that continues to funnel terrorist attacks of the worst kind. There is a charged programme of activity coming up in the months ahead between India and France. India''s Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani will be in Paris late January for a series of top level meetings that will including with Mr. Chirac. In February, the French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, is to visit India accompanied by five top-level Ministers - defence, finance, transport, foreign cooperation and industry. He will also be taking an impressive team of businessmen with him.