The Indian Ocean region holds significant geopolitical and economic importance due to its vast maritime expanse and its role as a crucial trade and energy route. The strategic competition and cooperation among regional and global powers in this region have far-reaching implications for the security and stability of countries in the vicinity, including Pakistan.
The importance of the Indian Ocean can be seen in the Geo-Political Activities of European nations, especially France.
France is the prominent European nation among others that is taking more interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), mainly due to the following reasons: preserving its Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), propagating French culture, and building privileged relations with the Indian Ocean littoral states. To achieve the objectives mentioned above, France has extended its hand of partnership to India. France and India have enjoyed cordial relations since India’s independence. India has been the second most lucrative market for French defense products after Russia.
In recent years, India helped France become part of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), a group of countries led by India that mainly focuses on the politics of IOR. France became its member mainly due to its overseas territories in the Indian Ocean region, which include Reunion Island and Mayotte. It is pertinent to mention that France encompasses 10 percent of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the total Indian Ocean region. As a result, France has become the resident power in the Indian Ocean and contains the second-highest EEZ after the US.
As far as Indian presence in the region is concerned, India, one of the largest coastal states, has capitalized on its pivotal geo-strategic position. In the near past, India intensified its activities in the Indian Ocean region under different initiatives, which included the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), Look East policy, and Act East Policy. According to these initiatives, India has extended its help by providing them with financial, diplomatic, and security assistance. India offered a line of credit support to the littoral states of the Indian Ocean, such as Sri Lanka, Maldives, and many African countries.
India is also benefiting from the presence of the Western countries in the Indian Ocean. In this regard, India has signed different military and civilian pacts with France to use each other’s regional ports.
Likewise, India and France also signed different pacts. Both countries worked on the “Project 75” of the Indian Navy in 2005, worth $3.75 billion. India had to get six Scorpion-class diesel-made submarines for its navy in the Indian Ocean, which allowed technology transfer.
Prime Minister Modi recently visited France, where both countries signed many agreements. Under this deal, the Naval Group of France and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited of India will collaborate on surface ships.
Likewise, the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) of India and Safran of France will work to develop the combat aircraft engine. The center of gravity of these agreements lies in the order of 26 Marine Rafale Jets, which will further strengthen the defense of India in general and the Indian Navy in particular. It is pertinent to mention that India previously, in September 2016, ordered 36 Rafale jets, which is slightly different from the newly placed order of Rafale. The Indian Air Force has already begun using the Rafael air jet.
In this regard, the Indo-French Strategic Partnership in the Indian Ocean presents a dynamic and evolving collaboration that necessitates a comprehensive analysis of its potential implications for Pakistan. The Rafael, which India will have, might be used against Pakistan in the aura of conflict while maintaining the strained relationship between the Asian nuclear powers. This will create a disbalance in the region.
The intention of this threat was already shown by the former Indian Air Force Chief, BS Dhanoa, by saying that if India could have used Rafael, India would have shot down the 3 to 4 aircraft carriers on Feb 27, 2019.
Therefore, the strategic partnership between India and France directly impacts the security of Pakistan. Pakistan should beef up its diplomatic engagement with countries where both countries can work in the defense sector-. Apart from the Chinese market, Pakistan may explore new avenues for its defense sector.
The Writer is a Research Officer at Balochistan Think Tank Network and can be reached at @MHBarech.