Indian airlift from war-torn Iraq

One of the greatest examples of diplomatic success in a very dangerous war zone, I think, is how the Indian government got its citizens out of Iraq this week.

On Saturday, over 120 Indians were airlifted from Erbil – including 46 nurses who were held captive by the ISIS militants for several days.

A total of 1200 are expected to return to India from Iraq this week.

Oomen Chandy, the Chief Minister of Kerala, the state to which the nurses belonged, was present at the Kochi airport to receive the nurses when they arrived.

We do not know the way in which Indian government was able to successfully negotiate the release of these people, but what we know for a fact now is that this is indeed a Foreign policy success to the new Narendra Modi government.

And it can now go down into the Administrative Management books as one of the best lessons of diplomatic engagement.

The ordeal of the nurses, who were working at a hospital in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, began when a swift ISIS (Islamic State for Iraq and Syria) offensive was launched on June 9.

The nurses were then moved out against their will and detained in the militant-held city of Mosul, 250 km from Tikrit.

From there, the information is very sketchy. But based on what the nurses and other Indians are telling the reporters, we can say that the Indian government planned a very good strategy to airlift the Indians out.

While some Indians have been brought from Iraq, the Ministry of External affairs has assured that the resources that went into freeing the nurses would be also used in the case of others who are still stuck in Iraq.

High level meetings chaired by Indian External affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and the continuous interactions between the Kerala Chief Minister and the Ministry of External Affairs and several others made this a diplomatic coup.

Notable among these is the effort of the Indian Ambassador to Iraq Ajay Kumar, who had served as the First secretary of the Indian Embassy in Bahrain just three years ago, and other Indian diplomats in Iraq.

Despite the tense moment-by-moment news-reports that (1) the Indian aircraft was not given permission to land, (2) they were waiting for permission, and (3) the plane landed but it is unsure whether they will be allowed to leave, the final good news was that they were safely on their way home.

When asked for details on exactly how the nurses’ release was secured and what the captors’ demands were, the Ministry of External Affairs spokesman declined to give them.

Apparently, there were many more Indians in captivity and the process of freeing them was “under way”, and therefore, anything that is said might have an adverse impact on the operation.

“We will not say how we are operating, with whom and when,” the spokesman said when asked again how the release was secured.

Frankly, I don’t think we need to know.

All that matters is that Indian government is doing its best – in a very violent war zone – as it brings back many Indians to their home safe.