India, EU to expand counter-terror, anti-piracy operations


New Delhi: Pitching for a stronger strategic partnership with India, the European Union’s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton Wednesday called for expanding counter-terror cooperation and increasing collaboration in combating piracy off the Somalian coast.

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“India is one of the most significant global powers in the 21st Century. It is the biggest democracy in the world, an economic and cultural heavyweight whose power can only increase,” Ashton said at at a lecture organised by the Indian Council for World Affairs (ICWA).

Ashton, the EU’s highest representative for foreign affairs and security policy and the first vice president of the European Commission, also expressed concern about recent reports about Pakistan’s spy agency ISI’s involvement in fomenting insurgency in Afghanistan.

Ashton, who is in India to firm up the agenda for the India-EU summit that Brussels will host in October, held wide-ranging discussions with Home Minister P. Chidambaram and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and discussed anti-terror cooperation with India.

The EU’s anti-terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, and head of EU military staff Gen. Ton Van Osch also participated in the discussions.

“In the EU, we are looking at fusion centres to bring different strands of intelligence on terrorist activities together,” Ashton said at the ICWA lecutre on ‘EU-India relations post-Lisbon: cooperation in a changing world’.

“We are laying the ground for greater cooperation between the EU and India on counter-terrorism,” Ashton said. She also called for giving greater impetus to cooperation between the European Police Office (Europol) and Indian agencies.

Alluding to the ongoing relationship between the EU Naval Force and India in combating piracy, Ashton stressed on the importance of regional leadership in tackling not only piracy at sea but also in tackling the roots of piracy on land.

“India could take over rotating command structures designed to combat piracy,” she said, adding: “We think we can do more, developing this cooperation further.”

In a bid to expand the canvas of strategic ties, the EU also made a pitch for Indian participation in EU crisis management operations.

“With India’s role as one of the primary contributors to UN peacekeeping activities and the EU’s growing role in crisis management, increased co-operation makes a lot of sense,” Ashton maintained.

Lauding India’s role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Ashton sought to play down reports that the EU did not want India to scale up its activities in the violence-torn country, saying it was for New Delhi to decide and work out its role in that country.

“We would also like to deepen the dialogue we have with India on regional issues, including on Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” she said.

Ashton, however, expressed the EU’s unease with recent reports suggesting an increasing involvement of Pakistan’s ISI in Afghanistan. She, however, added that the EU was engaged in bolstering the civilian government in Islamabad to tackle terrorism that affects the whole region.

On the ongoing negotiations for a broad-based trade and investment agreement, Ashton clarified that the “win-win” deal may not be signed at the forthcoming summit, but stressed that the negotiations have entered the endgame stage.