NEW DELHI: The anticipation built around the US Secretary of State taking up issues related to human rights during his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar fizzled out, as Antony Blinken said after the interaction that all democracies are works in progress.
This is contrary to expectations when Joe Biden became US President earlier this year. It was expected that Biden would not hold back to call out New Delhi for issues related to human rights. Why this?
Experts believe that US-India ties are no longer based on a narrow interpretation of issues and has transformed into a mature relationship. “The US will side step being too harsh or critical against India as it does not want to disturb many aspects of the growing bilateral relationship. When compared to 1990s and early 2000s, there is a lot more at stake for the US, as is for India, to be vocally against New Delhi,” a research scholar at a leading think-tank said.
However, some think Blinken’s humility may have stemmed from the recent experience of the US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. “In 1980s, US worked with Mujahideens in Afghanistan to defeat Soviet Union. After the collapse of Soviet Union, the US dropped the ball in Afghanistan and returned only after the 9/11 terror attacks. After almost two decades of having boots on the ground, the US has withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving space open for the Taliban. Unlike other authoritarian groups, Taliban denies not only political freedoms, but seeks to define people’s social lives and even individual clothing choices. Similarly, after prolonged US intervention, it is doubtful if citizens of Iraq enjoy all human rights and political freedoms,” said Sanjay Pulipaka, Senior Fellow at the Delhi Policy Group.
Former US Presidents like Barack Obama had called out India over human rights issues. Senators, too, voiced concerns over Kashmir. After abrogation of Article 370, Senator Lindsey Graham had said in a report, “The Appropriations Committee notes with concern the current humanitarian crisis in Kashmir and calls on the government of India to: restore telecommunications and Internet services; lift lockdown and curfew; release individuals detained pursuant to the revocation of Article 370.”
Pulipaka feels the downgrade of criticism against India could be a part of a larger US strategy. “The unipolar moment in world politics is long gone. Consequently, US attempts to rap on the knuckles of fellow democracies or others may not yield positive outcomes. For example, a relatively smaller power like Myanmar is not losing sleep over US sanctions. The US needs other democracies to promote human rights. It is here that frameworks such as Quad come into play. While democracies continue their ‘quest for a more perfect union’, they should simultaneously protect and promote democracy in the larger Indo-Pacific region. Blinken’s humility, therefore, is a confident call for more collaboration and a calibrated approach towards the promotion of human rights,” he said.