US to raise human rights, Pegasus issues in talks with India

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) will hold talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar (L) next week

WASHINGTON: New Delhi, stand by for a brief lecture on human rights and civil liberties. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise these issues in talks with his Indian counterpart next week, including India's alleged use of spyware, notwithstanding an agenda heavy with strategic issues.
US officials who previewed the talks scheduled for Tuesday affirmed that human rights and democracy question will be part of the engagement, albeit, they suggested it would be in a constructive way.
"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," Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson told reporters during a conference call on Friday.
Specifically with regards to the alleged use by New Delhi of the Pegasus spyware, Thomson said the US is concerned about the whole notion of using this type of technology against civil society, or regime critics, or journalists, or anybody like that through extrajudicial means.
"We 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 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 added.
Washington had toned down its lectures on human rights issues during the Trump dispensation given its own dodgy record at home, but reinstallation of a Democratic administration marks a return to the issue dear to liberal and progressive constituencies. Many critics contend that such sermons are typically directed at democratic countries such as India while totalitarian regimes get a free pass.
The Biden administration's sermon on spyware comes amid a domestic flap involving allegations by Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the US National Security Agency agency was spying on him and reading his emails in an effort to take him off the air. The NSA has denied the allegation.
The wrinkles surrounding human rights and civil liberties issues aside, US officials talked up the strategic heft of ties between the two countries, affirming that bilateral discussions will focus on expanding security, defense, cyber, and counterterrorism cooperation "to ensure a safer and more secure world."
The officials also dismissed notions of "jitters" in the administration about the Biden White House cooling off ties with India, saying "we see the relationship continuing at a very high level, and India will of course remain an incredibly important partner."
They also confirmed that Secretary Blinken and Defence Secretary Austin will host their Indian counterparts for the annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue later this year, and Blinken would discuss prospects of an in-person quad summit involving leaders of US, India, Japan, and Australia.
The officials danced around the issue of US bailing out of Afghanistan and throwing New Delhi's equities there under the bus, saying, all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and countries in the region have an interest in a peaceful, secure, and stable Afghanistan, which can only be accomplished through a negotiated political settlement that brings an end to 40 years of conflict.
"India, of course, is a critical partner in the region, and we welcome India’s shared commitment to peace and supporting economic development in Afghanistan," Thomson said.

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