India has dealt with the “worst crisis” in decades along its border with China with “firmness and maturity” despite facing the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Thursday.
In an address at a leading think-tank in Paris, Shringla mentioned two recent terrorist incidents in France, one of which he said had its origins in Pakistan, noting that the civilised world needs to act with firmness to address the threat of terrorism.
Delving into major geo-strategic issues, he said the immediate challenges have not been able to distract India from broader strategic goals, especially in the Indo-Pacific Region where it is moving purposefully at multiple levels to create an “open, inclusive architecture”.
Shringla arrived here as part his week-long tour of France, Germany and the UK. His visit to France came as the country grapples with another terror attack. Three people have died in a knife attack at a church in Nice on Thursday which was described by French President Emmanuel Macron as an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
Shringla, in his address at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, said India and France face similar non-traditional security threats in the form of radicalism and terrorism, and the fight today is not against specific communities or individuals but against a “radical politico-religious ideology” Referring to cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, the foreign secretary said India has continued to ward off the menace from its western border.
“Despite the pandemic, we have dealt with the worst crisis in decades on our border with China and we have done so with firmness and maturity. At the same time, we have continued to ward off terrorism from across our western border,” he said.
“Our immediate challenges have not distracted us from broader strategic goals, especially in the Indo-Pacific Region, where we are moving purposefully at multiple levels to create an open, inclusive architecture. India is emerging at the centre of a network of initiatives,” he added.
About the threats of terrorism and radicalism, Shringla said radical ideology espouses violence and separatism, very often fanned and supported by foreign influence, adding such forces seek to destabilise pluralist societies. “It was horrifying to hear about the two recent terrorist incidents in France, one of which, as is very often the case, had its origins in our western neighbourhood — Pakistan,” he said. “For the past three decades, we have experienced what unbridled radicalism can wreak and what malevolent violent forces it can unleash. The civilised world needs to act together and act with firmness to address this threat to our cherished democratic value systems,” he added.
India has deplored the personal attacks against President Macron following his tougher stance on radical Islam. Macron has been facing criticism from various Muslim-majority countries after he defended cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad and said Islam was a religion in “crisis”.
His comments came in the backdrop of the beheading of French teacher on October 16 outside Paris in broad daylight.
In his address, Shringla said the fight today is not against specific communities or individuals but against a radical politico-religious ideology that attempts to negate the progress made by secular democracies, particularly when it involves the equality of all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and rights of women.
He also talked about convergence of interests between India and France in the Indo-Pacific.
“We remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, and peaceful resolution of disputes,” he said. “Our objective remains advancing the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region. Our Indo-Pacific concept has gained increasingly wider acceptance,” he said.
Shringla touched upon a number of key issues including Indias handling of the pandemic, New Delhis relationship with France as well as with Europe and transition in global geo-politics.
“We are cautiously optimistic that India may have crossed the point of inflection in the pandemic. This has been a whole-of-society effort. Our doctor, nurses and public health workers have persevered with admirable dedication,” he said. “Over 17,000 dedicated Covid facilities were set up with 1.6 million isolation beds. Over a million people are being tested daily. Our daily caseloads have reduced from a peak of over 90,000 per day a few weeks ago, to less than 50,000 per day now,” he added.
Shringla said the post-COVID world will be shaped by business and commerce as well as technology and sustainability, and nurtured by norms and values, by old-fashioned notions of trust, reliability and stability. “Whether in France or in India, these are attributes at the heart of our republican ideals. These are attributes that define our countries at home and motivate us abroad,” he said.
He said Indias own thinking about deeper global economic engagement will be influenced by both geopolitical divides and pandemic pressures.
“There was already a reassessment of FTA experiences, keeping in mind the unsettling impact they have had on Indias manufacturing. The attention could now shift to becoming part of global value chains, complemented by focused trading arrangements,” he said.
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