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ONE RETURN

The safe return of the nurses from Tikrit is cause for great relief and occasion for acknowledging that the Indian government has visibly done its best. It would have been distinctly better had the nurses and the Indian workers still held by the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria been evacuated earlier, as soon as the advance of the ISIS seemed unavoidable. But just because that delay cannot be undone, the efforts of the external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, of Indian embassy officials in Iraq and of the officials of that country as well should not be undervalued. Given the not too proud history of India’s rescue of its citizens caught in conflict situations, as earlier in Kuwait or Libya, the return of the nurses is a remarkable feat. This, however, should not be the exception but the rule. The Indian government should be alert to the predicament of its citizens compelled to go and work in difficult terrains because of the lack of jobs in their own land. They are most in need of a fast response from their home country in times of trouble. Since there has been no abatement in militancy in the world, perhaps Indian embassies abroad should be sensitized afresh to the dangers faced by overseas Indian workers, and expert negotiators kept ready in case of emergencies. The situation in Iraq and the successful release of the nurses may be have given the new Indian government an opportunity to hone its policies and strategies in this direction.

The opportunity is especially telling because the return of the nurses is shadowed by the failure to free other workers. As some families rejoice in Kerala, others wait in agony, mostly in Punjab and Haryana. The fact that there was a kind of track two diplomacy going on behind the official efforts may provide a clue for later strategy. The widespread Malayali expatriate community in the Gulf region helped with immediate contacts and pressures on the spot for the nurses’ release. So even if coincidental, the state’s presence helped. It may be argued that while New Delhi should be proactive in helping Indian citizens wherever they are caught in conflict situations, the respective states too could keep an eye on where their inhabitants were going to work in large numbers. Getting a network of contacts in place beforehand is always useful. Now, however, the focus of the government’s efforts should be on the release of the workers still stuck in Mosul.