Millennium Post

Nurse them back

The first real foreign affairs challenge facing the Narendra Modi government is the peculiar predicament of Indian nationals trapped in civil war-torn Iraq. Over 10,000 Indian civilians work in the country that is currently in the throes of the worst crisis since the 2003 invasion by US-led Nato forces. As Sunni militants belonging to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the al-Shams) fell more cities, Indians working in this country, especially nurses, domestic helps and construction workers, much like people from various other nationalities, are not just caught in the crossfire but are increasingly coming to face dire threats to life, limb and livelihood. Left without food and water, the most vulnerable among those incarcerated in the Iraqi warzone are the 46 nurses trapped in Tikrit, which is under the thumbs of this self-proclaimed Caliphate. The latest report trail from the hinterland, saying that some of the nurses were injured in the firing line as Iraqi armed forces waged a fight-to-finish to retake Tikrit (the hometown of executed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein) on Wednesday, and were taken hostage, is as alarming as it is heart-wrenching. While conflict zones are clearly out of the purview of international peace-time legal bindings, it is imperative that the ministry of external affairs ensures that the nurses, most of whom hail from Kerala, are brought back safely.

While diplomatic consultations between the two governments and preliminary rescue operations are underway, they are falling far short of the required scale of mass evacuation needed to bring everyone out of the battle zone. It is but natural that India alone is powerless to engineer this exercise all by itself, since many other fellow South Asians as well as nationals from Western countries are also caught in this life-threatening quagmire. That this situation calls for deft negotiations on the part of the consuls and involves appealing to a band of militants who don’t flinch before handing over a gun to even teenagers and children is really the toughest among a flurry of other formidable challenges staring at Modi regime.             
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