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Kanwal Sibal

Kanwal Sibal is former foreign secretary of India and former envoy to the US and Russia

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Hollande's Visit Cements Indo-French Alliance

France has commended India's stabilising role in South Asia, in particular in Afghanistan, where the two sides noted that terrorist activities and proxies supported from safe havens across Afghanistan's borders posed a grave threat to peace

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The India-France strategic partnership has gathered strength with President Hollande's successful visit to India as Chief Guest at our R-Day celebrations, which is the fifth time that a French leader has been so honoured. The visit has consolidated the gains accomplished during Prime Minister Modi's April 2015 visit to France.

France has reaffirmed its support for India's candidature for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council and for its membership of the four export control regimes of which India has been a target in the past. The joint determination expressed to achieve India's accession to the NSG in 2016 is noteworthy.

Modi has said that he decided to invite Hollande as Chief Guest after the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris last November. A separate Joint Statement on Counter Terrorism was issued this time, underlining a determination to act together and internationally to combat this scourge. All our concerns about terrorism are reflected in the statement which recognises the need to urgently "disrupt terrorist networks and financing channels, eliminate terrorist safe havens, training infrastructure and cross-border movement of terrorists". All countries have been called on "to effectively deal with terrorism emanating from their territory or territories under their control". Action "against all entities, including States, that sponsor, provide support, active or passive, to terrorist groups or harbour them" has been sought.

France has not shied away this time to point a finger at Pakistan by asking for "decisive actions" against Lashkar-e-Tayibba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. While condemning the terror attacks in Pathankot and Gurdaspur, Pakistan has been asked to bring to justice the perpetrators of these attacks as well as those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai carnage.

Our mutual understanding on the terrorist threat to the region has been extended to Afghanistan. Hollande has commended India's stabilising role in South Asia, in particular in Afghanistan, where the two sides noted that terrorist activities and proxies supported from safe havens across Afghanistan's borders posed a grave threat to peace, security and stability of that country. Given that France will now raise the terrorism issue in European instances and in the UN with much greater force than before, this should help us in dealing with our Pakistan problem, though US reluctance to sanction Pakistan and China's unwillingness to pressure an "all weather friend" will remain a hurdle.

The issue of priority interest for the media was whether the big-ticket Rafale contract would be finalised during the visit. In the event, the expected Inter-governmental Agreement (IGA) could not be signed, but in order to convey that negotiations were on track and progress had been made, a MOU on the purchase of 36 Rafales was signed at Defence Minister level, with the clarification that all aspects of the IGA had been concluded, barring the resolution of some financial issues which, according to sources would be done in the next four weeks. It was agreed during the visit to extend the 2006 Agreement on Defence Cooperation for another ten years.

Civilian nuclear cooperation has been a key area of the Indo-French strategic partnership. Negotiations to construct six French supplied EPR reactors at Jaitapur have gone on for some years. Tariff issues and restructuring of the French nuclear industry have, however, caused delays in finalising the deal. Modi and Hollande have this time given a new impetus to negotiations by encouraging the conclusion of techno-commercial negotiations by the end of 2016 with important caveats such cost viability of the project, economic financing from the French side, collaboration on transfer of technology and cost-effective localisation of manufacturing in India for large and critical components in accord with government's "Make in India" initiative. A revised MOU between EDF and NPCIL has been inked. That a roadmap has been agreed that aims at starting the implementation of the project in early 2017 indicates tangible progress.

In the area of space, two Implementing Arrangements for cooperation in definition studies on a future joint Thermal Infrared Earth Observation mission have been signed. These are technologically important as night time monitoring capability is involved.

Much more can be done between India and France on the economic front. With the European economy in crisis and low growth rates and high unemployment marking the French economy, India offers attractive opportunities for trade and investment. India's strengths are growing, not spectacularly, but steadily. With rising concerns about the state of the Chinese economy, and economic woes of other BRICS countries, India, with its projected 7.3 to 7.5 growth rate, is becoming more attractive. Modi has galvanised international interest in his development plans and confident messaging abroad about business opportunities in India, with promises of ease of doing business and predictability of the tax regime. We are seen as a significant contributor to global growth in the years ahead. If domestically we see our problems more acutely, sentiment about India is more positive abroad. All this means that the India-France partnership should grow economically

Modi's imaginative International Solar Alliance (ISA) that was initiated in Paris on 30 November 2015 on the sidelines of the COP 21 with Hollande's presence and support got a boost during the French president's visit. Modi and he laid the foundation stone of the Headquarters building of the ISA and inaugurated its interim Secretariat in Gurgaon. On the occasion, Hollande announced 300 million Euros of funding to support solar projects launched by member countries. France, with its experience in urban development, is also keen on participating in our Smart Cities project and MOUs were signed during Hollande's visit for extending technical assistance for the development of Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry.

France has great strength in the railways sector. The French state company SNCF has a significant presence in India already. Hollande's visit saw a follow-up agreements on a semi high-speed project for up-gradation of Delhi-Chandigarh line to 200 mph, on cooperation in the station renovation projects for Ambala and Ludhiana railway stations and the shareholding agreement on the Alstom-Indian Railways JV for production of 800 electric locomotives in Madhepura Bihar.

Hollande attaches value to the personal rapport he has developed with Modi, recognises the dynamism he is imparting to the Indian economy and believes in the growing affinity between the two countries. On this basis the Indo-French strategic ties should grow in strength.

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