Shedding its soft approach, India on Monday sent out a tough message to the US at the fourth round of the Indo-US strategic dialogue here, flagging its major concerns over American on-the-sly online snooping, the unilateral offer of talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the protectionist immigration measures that curtail the work permits to Indian IT professionals.
With the bilateral ties seemingly on auto-pilot mode, US Secretary of State John F Kerry met Union External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid on Monday morning and held four hour-long discussions hoping to put some momentum in the ties. On a day when former CIA technical worker and whistle-blower Edward Snowden -- who revealed a massive internet snooping programme devised by the US National Security Agency -- remained in Russia, Khurshid said there was a “meaningful discussion” on the subject.
But giving the benefit of doubt to the Americans, he said it was important to note “to get access to the contents of communication is one thing and being able to study by way of computer software patterns of communications by e-mails and telephone calls is another thing”.
He echoed US President Barack Obama by saying that due to this programme, terrorist strikes were foiled because of some of the “work they have been able to do”.
“Now, the issue of privacy and issues of reciprocity are all that we will keep in mind and these are matters that engage our attention on both sides and we are constantly in touch and if there is any need for things to be brought to notice on either side, it will be done,” said Khurshid.
Expectedly, Kerry strongly defended the programme asserting that there was an “enormous amount of misinformation” about the programme after it came into the public domain through the information leaked out by Snowden to The Guardian and The Washington Post.
The Secretary of State claimed that only after “adequate linkages” were found between different numbers, then the case went to a special court where the judge allowed the content to be examined only after scrutiny. He asserted that all “evidence has shown from our FBI, from our intelligence community that we have avoided terrorist attacks and saved lives”.
Meanwhile, the other thorny subject on which India and the US do not see eye-to-eye, the new Afghan reconciliation process which began with opening of the Taliban political office in the Qatari capital Doha, was also discussed with Kerry.
With the observers here deeply worried about role of the Taliban and Haqqani network (HQN), which had targeted the Indian embassy in Kabul, Kerry pre-empted the fears by asserting that the Indian concerns will not be “overlooked”.
Meanwhile, US Vice-President Joe Biden will be arriving on a state visit to India by July-end. And this was announced by Kerry after the latest round of the strategic dialogue drew to a close.
“I am very pleased to announce that in furtherance of this dialogue and in an effort to keep the high-level that we think this relationship deserves that Biden will be visiting India in late July,” he said.