India and France have maintained close and friendly relations till date. Apart from the traditional fields of cooperation such as defence, India and France are increasingly engaged in newer areas of cooperation such as counterterrorism, climate change, sustainable development, nuclear energy, and now COVID-19 response, among others. With both the countries supporting a multipolar, rules-based world order, France has consistently extended its hand to India in support of several matters, including India’s bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as well as its Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) bid.


After facing continuous terrorist attacks, France adopted various anti-terrorism methods and policies, including by passing the Islamist Separatism Bill in 2021. France has also vowed to cooperate with like-minded countries such as India to curb terrorist attacks across the globe. By showing support for the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and promoting efforts in international forums such as Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), the two countries have stepped up their bilateral relations and advanced efforts to curb terrorism. This article provides a glimpse of India-France relations, with an eye on President Emmanuel Macron’s foreign policy and security strategy, particularly concerning counterterrorism.


Macron’s Vision for France


Emmanuel Macron, after serving a couple of years as the Deputy Secretary General in François Hollande’s first government appeared on the French political scene in the year 2014, when he replaced Arnaud Montebourg as Minister of Economy, Industry, and Digital Affairs. Being a former investment banker, he was an unusual presence in French politics with neither extensive political experience nor any imminent party rank. Emerging as the new political leader, he presented himself as a progressive leader. It is evident from his book that he was willing to establish a new political frontier in such a manner that all his opponents during the 2017 elections were framed as “backward-looking conservatives”, while he was the only true visionary reformer among the candidates. Today this unusual candidate holds the highest office in France.


The Charlie Hebdo Attack and France’s Counterterrorism Strategy


In 2015, after a French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, published Prophet Mohammad’s cartoons, Kouchi brothers, French born sons of Algerian immigrants, gate-crashed the Charlie Hebdo office, armed with assault guns and other ammunition. Among the several staff killed was the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Later, the brothers were killed by the French Police in firing.


France has faced several terrorist attacks, even before Macron came to power. After the Charlie Hebdo attack, France became a victim of a series of terrorist attacks, which led to the French Government adopting stricter measures to curb terrorism in the country, and call out countries that promote terrorism in anyway. French politicians requested the government to declare a State of Emergency, and demanded a French Patriot Act. The French Government adopted various measures to curb terrorism over time, chiefly the following:


  • Mobilization of Sentinelle Military Protection Mission with 10,000 soldiers and 4,700 police and gendarmes, with the aim of protecting French citizens and territories.
  • Passing of the French Intelligence Act, which gives more powers to the intelligence services, and allows surveillance and complete access to collected data and intelligence.
  • Opening of “de-radicalization centres” for prisoners convicted of terrorist activities and other similar criminal activities. It is compulsory for such convicts to undertake the de-radicalization programme while serving their sentence. These programmes also target convicts who may have not committed terror-related crimes, but are at a higher risk of becoming radicalised in the future.
  • Creation of additional posts in sectors such as police, customs and judiciary.
  • A centralised and specialised approach both at the political and judicial levels, acting as a gateway to track down terrorists with assistance from various intelligence bodies and organisations. For this purpose Specialised Units have been set up within the judiciary known as “Unité de Coordination de la Lutte Anti-Terroriste”.
  • The launch of Operation Chammal on the request of the Iraqi Government, providing air and ground support as well as special military training to Iraqi army dedicated to fighting against terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
  • The launch of Operation Barkhane after the killing of several French and Nigerian civilians to maintain stability in North Africa and provide aid in case of a terror attack, including by raiding enemy camps along with airstrikes and airmobile operations.
  • Tabling of the New Counter Terrorism Bill after a French Police official was killed in an alleged terrorist attack; the bill also gives authorities great powers to monitor and restrict movements of those convicted of terrorism after serving their term in prison.


The Islamic Separatism Bill and France’s Relations with the Islamic World


France’s counterterrorism resolve strengthened further in 2020, when a school teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by a Chechen Islamist militant, troubled about the showcasing of Prophet Mohammed’s cartoons in a class. Referring to this incident as an “Islamist terrorist attack”, President Macron defended freedom of expression and came in support of the Charlie Hebdo publication house, which had chosen to republish the controversial 2015 cartoons. After Macron’s controversial remarks, many Islamic countries around the world conveyed their resentment by boycotting French products, and in some places, even burning Macron’s posters.


Turkey and Pakistan were among the countries that reacted aggressively to the remarks made by Macron. France recalled its ambassador to Turkey when the Turkish President made personal remarks on Macron by stating that he needed a “mental check”. Amid the controversy and backlash faced by Macron, India openly came in support of France by condemning any act of terrorism and personal statements made against Macron.


The beheading of the school teacher led to further measures being adopted by the French authorities. In February 2021, France’s National Assembly approved the Islamic Separatism Bill, to fight Islamist extremism and separatism in an endeavour to tackle the root cause of violent extremism. After this stance taken by the French Assembly against radical Islam, the founder of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, an extremist Islamist political party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi called on Pakistan to sever all relations with France. He urged his followers to protest in the streets of Islamabad by burning posters and effigies of the French President, and boycott French products. The situation became aggravated when he died due to COVID-19, and under the leadership of his son, Saad Hussain Rizvi, the streets of Pakistan became frenzied.


As soon as the protests started in Pakistan after the passing of the Islamist Separatism Bill, France advised its citizens and French companies to leave Pakistan immediately, and even advised 15 of its diplomats to return to France. These developments have also led to deterioration of relations between France and Pakistan. In November 2020, France refused to cater to help sought by Pakistan for the up-gradation of Mirage fighter jets and ancillary defence equipment. In addition, France also asked Qatar (one of the nations that purchased Rafale fighter jets) to not allow Pakistan-origin technicians to work on the aircraft, for they might leak confidential information to China, something Pakistan is best known for.


Burgeoning Ties between India and France


The ties between India and France could be seen strengthening from a series of events that took place in the past few years, whether it is France’s consistent support for India’s bid for a permanent seat in the UNSC, or the very first use of the French Rafale fighter jets in ‘Exercise SKYROS’ wargames in Jodhpur in 2020. Furthermore, a prolific deal worked out for India when France offered to shift “assembly line for Panther medium-utility helicopters as well as 70 percent of that for Rafale fighters” to India, thereby boosting the ‘Make in India’ initiative. In December 2020, France’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific Region (especially the Indian Ocean) was also reinforced, with it becoming one of the full members of the “Indian Ocean Rim Association”. Through both multilateral forums and bilateral frameworks, India and France have made huge strides in climate change cooperation. An essential joint initiative by France and India, the International Solar Alliance (ISA), aims to promote the development and deployment of solar energy across the globe.


On the counterterrorism front, India and France held the 14th Meeting of Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism in New Delhi on 28 February 2020. According to the statement, “both sides condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed on the necessity for strengthening international cooperation to combat terrorism in a comprehensive and sustained manner.” In addition, “they exchanged views on current counter-terrorism challenges, including countering radicalization, combating financing of terrorism, preventing use of internet for terrorist purposes, threats posed by internationally designated terrorist entities as well as cross-border terrorism in the South Asian region.” Their strategic partnership could be strengthened particularly through “regular exchange of information, joint capacity building efforts, mutual legal assistance, sharing best practices for countering terrorism and radicalisation and cooperating in multilateral fora such as United Nations and FATF.”


In comparison to other countries, India has always been at a higher risk of being attacked by terrorist groups, given the existence of numerous such extremist groups even within the South Asian region, such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al-Qaeda. In fact, India has been a victim of terrorist attacks for a much longer period of time, as compared to countries in the West. Frequent attacks have pushed the country to fight this menace on a global scale, and join hands with several like-minded countries, including France. Successive French Governments have strongly condemned such attacks as well. After the Pulwama (Jammu and Kashmir) attack in 2019, the French President categorically stated that such attacks should not go unpunished.


The Way Forward for India-France Relations


The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi visited France after receiving an official invitation from President Macron in 2019. In his statement, Prime Minister Modi said that his visit to France reflected the strong strategic partnership, which the two countries deeply value and share. India and France have excellent bilateral ties, which are reinforced by a shared vision to cooperate for further enhancing peace and prosperity in the two countries and in the world at large. The strong strategic and economic partnership is complemented by a shared perspective on major global concerns such as counterterrorism.


India and France have signed several agreements in diverse sectors such as trade, defence, space, culture, cyber security, cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, and counterterrorism, among others, bolstering their ties. Over the years, the two countries have gone beyond their bilateral relations and attempted at sculpting the future of multilateralism itself. Both the countries, with their complementary interests, have been working towards combatting terrorism and making the world more peaceful and stable.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.