NEW DELHI, Nov 20: Angered by the criticism by prime minister Imran Khan of its president Emmanuel Macron over the murder of a French schoolteacher, France is learnt to have rejected a Pakistani proposal to help upgrade its fleet of Mirage fighter jets, air defence system and Agosta 90B class submarines.
France is also learnt to have told Qatar, one of the countries that bought the Rafale fighters, not to allow any technician connected with Pakistan to work with the plane. It was because of France’s concerns over possible leaking of technical information about the fighter to Islamabad which has now become a front-line fighter for India. Pakistan is known to have shared vital defence data with China in the past.
In addition to Qatar, France has issued a general direction to all Rafale using nations including India to keep Pakistan origin technicians away from the fighter jet under the export control regime. Qatar is also using Rafale fighter jets in its air force.
France’s stand against Pakistan in the defence deals, a major advantage for India, is considered to be the direct fall-out of Imran Khan criticizing Macron for defending the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher by an alleged Islamic fanatic over showing a cartoon of the prophet to his wards in the school. The Pakistani father of the 18-year old boy Ali Hassan, who had killed two persons in Paris in September, had reportedly appreciated the “great job” done by his son in killing the “non-believers” and had stated that he was “proud of his son.”
Paris has already started putting the asylum requests from Pakistanis under detailed scrutiny in view of the strained ties between the two countries. Indian foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shrigla was learnt to have been told about the France’s decision on Pakistan requests and had also reassured India that it was very sensitive to security concerns of its strategic ally and had issued directions about keeping Pakistan-origin technicians away from Rafale fighter jet under the export control regime in light of India’s security concerns that has inducted Rafale fighters in the Indian Air Force.
The French government’s decision not to upgrade the Mirage III and Mirage 5 fighter jets could severely impact Pakistani Air Force which has had about 150 Mirage fighter jets manufactured by the French firm Dassault Aviation. Only half of them, however, are serviceable.
Pakistan had been buying Mirage jets for decades, some of them discarded by other countries and has a facility outside Islamabad to refurbish the ageing fighter jets to keep them flying.
German chancellor Angela Merkel had earlier turned down a similar request for supply of the AIP systems to upgrade submarines in Pakistan’s inventory due to its role in promoting terror, particularly Islamabad’s failure to cooperate in identifying the perpetrators of the truck bomb attack on the Germany Embassy in Kabul in May 2017.
The French government’s decisions came soon after Khan, along with close ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, strongly criticized Macron for his statement on the beheading of the school teacher. Khan had also followed it up with an open letter to leaders of Muslim-majority countries that asked them to unite against “growing Islamophobia in non-Muslim states”. Pakistan’s National Assembly went a step further to pass a government-supported resolution that demanded recall of Pakistan’s envoy to Paris. It later realised that Pakistan hadn’t had an ambassador in Paris for three months.
On the streets of Pakistan, there have been calls to boycott French goods. Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, a hard-line Islamist group, which held a sit-in in Islamabad over republishing the caricatures in France, last week revealed that the government had agreed to boycott French goods. The group had made public an agreement with signatures of the federal minister for religious affairs and the interior minister agreeing to the boycott.
(Manas Dasgupta / Vinayak Barot)