WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is making his first visit to India next week, will raise issues encompassing human rights and democracy in talks with top Indian officials according to a senior US official.
“With respect to the human rights and democracy question, yes, you’re right; I will tell you that we will raise it, and we will continue that conversation because we firmly believe that we have more values in common on those fronts than we don’t,” the Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Dean Thompson, told reporters on Friday when asked how important human rights will figure in the agenda.
Blinken is scheduled to arrive in the Indian capital on July 27.
During his stay, he will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, among others.
Thompson did not specify the human rights issues Blinken will bring up in his talks. India’s suppression of the people of Kashmir, especially after the 5 August 2019 military siege of the disputed state, has been a top international human rights concern. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has repeatedly voiced concern about human rights violations in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK).
The Hindu-nationalist Modi government has also been criticised for the growing demonisation of India’s Muslims and depriving them of their human rights.
In addition, Human rights organisations have been highlighting the systematic erosion of civil liberties in India as well as democracy itself.
“We are looking forward to this opportunity for the Secretary to talk with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, and continue to pursue the myriad areas of common interest that we have,” Thompson said.
On whether India and Pakistan’s relationship would come up in the talks, Thompson said the U.S. believed “strongly” that the issues were for India and Pakistan to resolve between themselves.
“We are pleased to see that the ceasefire that went into place earlier this year is – has remained intact, and we certainly always encourage them to continue their efforts to find ways to build a more stable relationship going forward,” he said.
On the question of Pegasus spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance firm, that helps spies hack into phones, Thompson reacted cautiously.
“I don’t have any particular special insights into the India case. I know this is a broader issue, but I will say that we’ve been, I think, quite vocal about trying to find ways for companies to be able to ensure that their technology is not used in these types of ways. And we will certainly continue to press those issues,” he said.
The Biden administration – which only days earlier had accused China and Russia of “protecting” and “accommodating” cyber hackers and their hacking – has been reluctant to apply the same standards to Israel, one of U.S.’ closest allies and India, now its strategic partner.
The following week’s meeting in Delhi will cover a host of issues such as expanding cooperation on the security, cyber, defence and counter-terrorism fronts, it was pointed out. It will also include discussions on the Indo-Pacific and a partnership among Quad countries to roll out at least a billion COVID-19 vaccines in 2022 to the Asia region. The overall response to the pandemic and cooperation on climate action are expected to be significant issues on next week’s agenda.
On the question of what the U.S. is “ looking for” from India with regard to Afghanistan, Thompson did not want to get into specifics but said that Blinken would discuss how the U.S. and India could work together to get a “stable and secure” Afghanistan.