France pulled the plug on decades-old military support for Pakistan on Friday, dealing a heavy blow to the South Asian country that criticized French President Emmanuel Macron's stance on Prophet Mohammad cartoons.

Paris said on Friday that it would stop supporting the upgrade of Pakistan's Mirage fighter jets, air defense system and Agosta 90B class submarines.

The French President's defense of freedom of expression and the essence of French secularism in the backdrop of the beheading of school teacher Samuel Paty had triggered massive anti-France protests in Pakistan. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had also launched a brazen attack on Macron along with staunch ally Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Future of Pakistan's 150 Mirage Jets in Question

Military observers say the French decision to stop technical support for Mirage III and Mirage 5 fighters will seriously affect Pakistan's air forces. Pakistan has about 150 Mirage fighter jets manufactured and delivered by France's Dassault Aviation. Besides buying fighter jets from Dassault Aviation, Islamabad has also bought Mirage fighters discarded by the air forces of other countries. All these need service and repairs to keep them air worthy.

Will not Upgrade French-Italian Air Defense System

Reports also said France also declined Pakistan's request to upgrade the French-Italian air defense system, which it had purchased. France also asked Qatar to make sure that Pakistan-origin technicians are not involved in servicing its fleet of Rafale fighter jets.

Pakistan was in the forefront of the attack against France following a wave of Islamist attacks in France. Imran Khan wrote an open letter to leaders of Muslim-majority countries, asking them to join the attack on France. Pakistan's parliament also passed a resolution to recall the envoy to Paris even as mass protests on Pakistani streets demanded a boycott of French products.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference after the European Union's Informal Summit in Salzburg, Austria, Sept. 20, 2018. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan/IANS)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference after the European Union's Informal Summit in Salzburg, Austria, Sept. 20, 2018. (Xinhua/Ye Pingfan/IANS) IANS

Hard Scrutiny of Pak Asylum Seekers

A report in the Hindustan Times also said Paris has already started making detailed scrutiny of asylum requests from Pakistanis. This followed the attack outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in September. The stabbing attack was launched by a Pakistani youth. His father, who lives in Pakistan, openly stated that he was proud of his son's act. He said the 18-year-old had "done a great job" and that he was "very happy" about the attack.

Pakistani Boycott of French Goods

Earlier this week, the Pakistani government reached an agreement with the leaders of radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to end the mass protests that crippled Islamabad. Interestingly, one of the conditions underlying the agreement was that Pakistan would "completely boycott French goods on a government level".

The other terms of the agreement included not to appoint an ambassador to France and allowing the parliament to decide if the French ambassador has to be expelled.

Macron's Plan to Confront Islamic Separatism

In a speech in early October, Macron unveiled plans to confront 'Islamist separatism' in the secular nation. The most crucial steps France would take are curtailing the 'foreign influence' on Islam and enforcing more oversight on the operations and financing of mosques.

The speech was delivered a month after the republication of the cartoons denigrating Prophet Mohamad triggered a wave of Islamist protests that culminated in a knife attack near Charlie Hebdo's former offices.

Macron observed that the crisis of Islam is not limited to France alone but to the whole world. "Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country," he said.

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