Indian security agencies have raised concerns over certain international defence companies who are pushing for increased arms sales to Pakistan on the one hand but trying to increase their presence in the Indian arms market on the other, to become a part of the Centre’s flagship “Make in India” campaign.

These companies, according to sources, include the France-based Thales defence, Italy-based Leonardo-Finmeccanica, France based MBDA and Beretta of Italy, which took part in the recently held International defence exhibition in Karachi from 22 to 25 November. The who’s who of Pakistan decision makers, including diplomats and officials from the defence ministry, attended the exhibition and met the representatives of these private companies.

The exhibition was organised by the Defence Export Promotion Organization (DEPO), which has been established by the Government of Pakistan as a facilitation agency for all customer inquiries and to coordinate the export of high quality defence products and services.

Sources said that Thales, which is one of the major contributors to India’s demand for arms and related technologies, showcased its equipment related to air defence systems, naval ships and submarines and naval equipment. 

Sources also stated that an “in-principle” deal was also approved between the Pakistan government and Thales to provide air defence system to Pakistan, which will be designed keeping the “India threat” in mind. Interestingly, Thales had entered into a joint venture with Navratna defence public sector undertaking Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to form BEL-THALES Systems Limited, in 2014 to focus on the design, development, marketing, supply and support of civilian and select defence radars for India and the global markets. 

BEL holds a 74% stake, while Thales holds 26% of the equity in the JV company.

Similarly, the Italy-based Leonardo-Finmeccanica, which is experiencing a “partial-ban” from the Indian government for its involvement in the VVIP helicopter scam that took place during the UPA government, too, showcased its air defence systems, anti-tank, wall breaching weapon systems, guns and ammunition for armoured vehicles, main battle tanks, armoured vehicles, drones, communication equipments and equipment for detection, information-gathering and identification.

The France-based European missile manufacturer MBDA, which is working with the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and public sector firm Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to co-develop and manufacture a short-range surface-to-air missile (SRSAM) for the Indian Navy through extensive technology transfer, took part in the Karachi exhibition and exhibited the air defence systems to Pakistani officials, which, according to sources, was “highly appreciated by the Pakistani officials”.

The Italy-based Beretta, which is negotiating with the Pune-based Kalyani Group to create a strategic partnership for providing small arms to Indian security forces, also took part in the Karachi export with the intention to seek buyers for its small arms from Pakistan.

Sources said that Beretta ARX-200, an automatic rifle, has already been shortlisted as a possible weapon to replace the Pakistan Army’s Heckler & Koch G-3 battle rifles.

Official sources said that the possibility of a conflict of interest was high for these private companies as they were dealing with two countries that make their respective military strategies  keeping in mind the animosity between them. 

“The Defence Ministry, we hope, will look into this very seriously to make sure that there are enough arrangements to stop legal and illegal transfer of technology being made by these companies for India to Pakistan. There should be enough safeguards to make sure that in case of a crisis, our weapons are not rendered useless because the enemy country already knows its strengths and weaknesses,” the source said.