New Delhi: The newly elected Narendra Modi government at the Centre is facing its first major challenge. Like the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, which caused problems for the NDA government led by AB Vajpayee, Iraq is once again causing a big headache to Prime Minister Modi.
Perhaps, nobody had expected the Iraq crisis to shake the Modi administration. The abduction of 40 Indian construction workers from Mosul in northern Iraq will surely rob the Prime Minister's sleep.The most fanatic and the cruelest terrorist organization, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has abducted the Indians and nobody is hoping that the ISIS will treat them well. The cruelty of the ISIS has shocked even the al-Qaeda.
The ISIS has beheaded thousands of its prisoners and posted gruesome pictures on the internet. With the Iraqi government in Baghdad losing grip over the country, India may find it very difficult to reach out to the abducted Indian workers.
The ISIS which has already captured Mosul is advancing towards capital Baghdad. The Iraqi forces aided by the Americans have been able to halt their march, but there is no guarantee that they can be stopped for a long time.
According to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) there are over 18,000 Indians working in different parts of Iraq. Since the southern part of Iraq is calm and the Kurdish region is administered by a semi-independent government, the Indians working in northern Iraq have become very vulnerable.
About 40 nurses from Kerala have also been stranded at Tikrit near Mosul. The nurses are claiming that they are safe and the Indian mission in Iraq is trying to evacuate them to safer places.
India has already sent its former ambassador to Iraq Suresh Reddy to Baghdad to try and establish contact with the abducted Indian workers. Suresh Reddy, who has good contacts in Iraq, is likely to use his local contacts to trace the abducted Indian workers.
The Indian government is also planning to use the Navy, Air force and private aircrafts for the evacuation of Indians stranded in Iraq.
But, negotiating with the ISIS looks very difficult. Not much is known about the ISIS and its leadership structure. The ISIS is known for its cruelty and it won't be easy for any government to deal with them.
The elected government in Iraq is tattering and it actually has no control over the happenings in the north. It is desperately trying to prevent the ISIS from taking over the national capital Baghdad.
Even if the Iraqi government goes out of its way, it may not be possible for them to secure the release of abducted Indian workers. Many of these abducted construction workers are from Punjab and their poor family members are demanding that the Centre must ensure the safe and quick release of them.
Modi government's National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval is likely to play a major role and may even coordinate with the MEA. The new External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj also has a tough job on her hand.
PM Modi is yet to make a statement on the crisis in Iraq and everybody is hoping that he will come out with a plan to ensure the safety of Indians in troubled Iraq.
40 Indians abducted and thousands stranded in Iraq
In all an estimated 18,000 Indian citizens are living in Iraq
Around 6,000 Indian workers are in the peaceful Kurdistan region (KRG)
3000 near Baghdad
46 Indian nurses are stranded in Tikrit (mostly from Kerala) and 40 construction workers have been abducted from Mosul
Indian embassy is considering airlifting Indian citizens with helicopters from Mosul, Tikrit, and nearby towns and villages
Indian Air Force has kept large and medium transport aircraft on standby for deployment at short notice
Naval warship in the Gulf of Eden on anti-piracy operations can be pressed into action
Indian embassy is planning to transport Indians to Erbil and then flying them to India
Irbil lies 88 km east of Mosul.
A few Indians have already been airlifted from Iraqi city of Samarra (25 km north of Baghdad)
Indian embassy to coordinate travel of stranded Indians from the two closest airports - Baghdad and Erbil
There is no authority whose writ runs in Mosul, Tikrit and adjoining areas
Evacuation from these cities is currently not feasible as roads are believed to be unsafe