Looking back at the government’s latest effort to ensure the safe evacuation of Indians from civil war-torn Iraq will reveal how it is very similar to the rescue operation New Delhi had launched in July 2004 to bring back three truck drivers whom a little known Iraqi terrorist group had abducted for ransom.
Then, as it is now, Indian interlocutors engaged with the kidnappers for several days to discuss the modalities to ensure the release of the drivers. The negotiations back then had included Indian interlocutors making the kidnappers substantially reduce the ransom amount they had originally demanded.
On Saturday, 46 nurses and 76 construction workers returned home from the conflict zones in Iraq. However, it is a diplomatic coup the Narendra Modi-led government doesn’t want to chortle about until it ensures the return of another 50 Indians still stuck in the conflict zones, including 39 held captive in Mosul. According to government sources, 600 more Indians are likely to be safely evacuated in the next 48-hours.
Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been tracking the issue of release of Indian workers and their evacuation keenly. National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval headed the team that has led the negotiations. Assistance has come from non-resident Indians of influence in the region as also those with business contacts in Iraq, dating from 1970s and 1980s when Iraqi Baathist government awarded large contracts to Indian companies.
Ministry of external affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said on Friday the government was leaving “no stone unturned” to bring back Indian nationals and that “conventional instrumentalities of diplomacy” were not available on the ground, hinting the government used unconventional measures to ensure safety of its people. Sources point out “all possible” measures have been taken in the effort to secure release of Indian nationals in captivity of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the government’s efforts. “We hope all those in captivity return home safely. This diplomatic effort has sent a message to the world that India has a government that takes care of its people,” Shrikant Sharma, party media cell convenor, said.
Akbaruddin said the return of Indians from Iraq has gathered pace. Of the 600 set to return over the next two days, 200 will come by an Iraqi Airways chartered flight from Najaf to Delhi on Saturday night. Another 400 Indians would be returning on commercial flights by Monday.
He said the Indian Mission in Baghdad has been able to persuade Iraqi companies to send back 600 other Indian nationals. “Our Mission in Baghdad is also separately processing papers of approximately 400 other people working for some major companies. Once these are processed, the total number of Indians who will have returned to India in the last fortnight would be about 2200,” Akbaruddin said.
There were about 10,000 Indians before the start of the strife between government troops and the militants backed by al Qaida in Iraq. With MEA facilitating the departures, it is estimated about 7500 Indians in non-conflict zones have left.