India has formally signed an agreement with France for the purchase of three dozen Rafale fighter jets worth a reported 8.8 billion dollars amid a long-running arms race with neighboring Pakistan.
India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the deal at a ceremony in the Indian capital, New Delhi, on Friday.
The deal was signed after years of tortuous negotiations between the two countries.
India entered exclusive negotiations on buying 126 of the fighter jets four years ago, but the number was scaled back during negotiations over costs and other matters.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally intervened in April 2015 to agree on the smaller order of 36.
Defense experts say it will bring a much-needed boost to India’s air force as it tries to replace parts of the country’s ageing air force fleet.
India, the world’s top defense importer, has signed several big-ticket deals as part of a 100-billion-dollar upgrade since Hindu nationalist Modi took office in 2014. He has vowed to modernize India’s armed forces.
The deal with France comes amid ongoing tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had earlier accused India of an “unprecedented arms build-up” along the de facto border dividing the disputed region of Kashmir.
Addressing the annual United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, Sharif said Pakistan would “take whatever measures… necessary to maintain credible deterrence.”
Sharif also blamed India for imposing “unacceptable preconditions” for potential peace talks over Kashmir.
Tensions have been rising between the two arch-rivals since militants attacked an Indian military base in Kashmir, killing nearly 20 Indian soldiers, on Sunday. The Indian army has blamed Pakistan-based militants for the assault, while Islamabad has denied the allegation.
Some Indian politicians and army veterans have called for a muscular response to the assault, including airstrikes on purported training camps on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC).
Indian and Pakistani forces have been engaged in clashes along the LoC in the disputed valley over the past months. The two sides accuse each other of provocation.
The restive Muslim-majority region had already been witnessing an increase in mass protests over the killing of a pro-independence militant figure since early July. Tens of thousands of Indian government troops have been deployed to the Indian-administered Kashmir and over 80 people have lost their lives in the ensuing crackdown.
Kashmir lies at the heart of almost 70 years of hostility between India and Pakistan. Both neighbors claim the region in full, but control parts of it only.