Jul 27, 2009

French foxes

Pakistan and France have a history of defence procurement/sales stretching back decades. The navy had its first Daphne-class submarines in 1971, succeeded by the Agosta 70s and 90s both equipped with the Exocet subsurface-to-surface missile. Exocets also equip our Sea King helicopters. We have for decades used the French Breguet Atlantique maritime reconnaissance aircraft; which is now rather long in the tooth and being replaced by the more capable P3C Orion. French Mirage fighters preceded today’s F16’s and now we hear that the French are to provide us with the small ‘Fennec’ helicopter (a Fennec is a type of fox) and, possibly, the much more formidable and aggressive Tiger attack helicopter. Reports earlier in July suggested that the ‘Tiger’ deal was done, but there are now indications that this might not be so, and the French ambassador to Pakistan speaking on a private TV channel pointed out that the lead-time on Tigers and the precedence in the queue of France and Germany would delay any delivery of Tigers to Pakistan. The Fennecs are going to be useful in terms of the fight in NWFP – if they get here in time – but they are not the heavy-hitters that we badly need. Our elderly Cobras are being stretched very thin, sourcing spares is increasingly a problem and the F16 is far from being the best counter-insurgency weapon.Also in the frame is technical assistance to strengthen the security of our existing nuclear facilities, but France is not going to build a new nuclear power station for us. The French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade Anne Marie Idrac has recently visited, and said on Thursday last that her country required the international community’s permission before commissioning a nuclear plant in a country – and given the general levels of international twitchiness about things nuclear and ourselves this is about as likely to happen as an outbreak of universal honesty among the political classes. She also said that France supported Pakistan in its efforts to restore democracy and its commitment to combat extremism, and in a moment of Gallic understatement commented that Pakistan was ‘going through a difficult phase’. Correct, Madame Idrac. France has pledged 300 million euros in aid for Pakistan at the Friends of Pakistan meeting in Tokyo and trade between the two countries has increased by 6 per cent in the last year. The French are committed to a range of development projects aimed at rehabilitating the IDPs and they are quietly supportive of a range of health and social sector initiatives and programmes countrywide. The French have a reputation in Europe as being independently minded when it comes to their foreign policy, and the French relationship with the US is sometimes almost as ambivalent and tendentious as is our own. Our relationship with France seems to be ‘strictly business’ – they make the arms and weapons systems that we buy, and there is no ‘colonial baggage’ or superpower arm-twisting involved. However, the French have their regional interests like every other player, and have had a historical involvement in the Middle East. No matter, we would like to see these French Foxes in action as soon as may be and an ambush of Tigers would come in handy as well.

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