Days after China blocked India's proposal in the UN, the world body's key member France has pitched for designating Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as an international terrorist, saying there are "very strong arguments in favour" of such a move.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was on a four-day India visit, also sent out a veiled message to China without naming it, saying "the international community's determination to combat terrorism must be the same everywhere, regardless of the threat."
Pointing out that Azhar's outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad "is already included in the (Sanctions) Committee's list of terrorist organisations", he told PTI in an interview, "therefore, there are very strong arguments in favour of listing its chief, as India has requested".
That's why, he said, France not only supported but also co-sponsored the Indian request at the UNSC.
India had submitted in February last year a proposal to the 15-member 1267 Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council to list Azhar as an international terrorist for masterminding the attack on Pathankot Air base.
Since then, China had twice imposed "technical hold" on the Indian proposal and finally on December 30 last, it blocked it, becoming the only country to do so.
"We regret that, despite our joint efforts and wide support from the Committee, unanimity could not be reached," said Ayrault, whose country is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
He said France will now discuss with India what should be done. "India knows it can count on our support," he added.
Azhar, a resident of Bahawalpur in Pakistan, was one of the three terrorists freed by India in exchange of 166 hostages of Indian Airlines plane IC-814 which was hijacked to Kandahar in December 1999.
Azhar, at that time, belonged to Harkat-ul Mujahideen, and soon after his release, he floated the new outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan which carried out several attacks in India, including on Parliament on December 13, 2001 and Pathankot Air base. The French Foreign Minister, whose country has faced a number of terror attacks over the last few years, pitched for a "decisive action" against Pakistan-based terror groups like LeT, JeM and Hizbul Mujahideen which are "targeting" India.
"France has very firmly condemned the terrorist attacks against India, including the recent one in Uri, and reiterated its full solidarity with India in its combat against terrorism," he said.
Clearly referring to Pakistan without naming it, he emphasised that all countries should fight effectively against terrorism "originating from their territory or territories under their control".
"We particularly want to see decisive action taken, in keeping with international law, against terrorist groups targeting India, particularly the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen," he said.
The French Minister was asked about his views on the surgical strikes carried out by Indian Army in September last to target terror camps based across the LoC in Pakistan- occupied Kashmir.
"Nothing can justify terrorism, which must be fought everywhere with equal determination. When a country is faced with a terrorist threat of this nature, it has the right to defend itself," he replied.
Ayrault also spoke about the scope of cooperation between India and his country in combating terror, the footprint of which is expanding and intensity increasing.
"France and India are both victims of terrorism, and they are in full solidarity vis-à-vis this scourge," he said.
He said the fight against terrorism is one of the cornerstones of India-France strategic partnership.
In concrete terms, he said, France and India hold "constant and very operational exchanges" on the terrorist threat.
"We have a bilateral working group that brings together all the players concerned over counter-terrorism, and, among others, cooperation with regard to investigations and between our respective intervention units, the GIGN from the French side, and the National Security Guards from the Indian side. I welcome the development of all these cooperations," he said.