When two Indian passenger ships carrying 337 Bangladeshi nationals, who were pulled out of war-torn Yemen, reached the southern Indian port city of Kochi on April 18, it marked the high-point of cooperation and coordination among the South Asian countries in a crisis situation of global proportion.
Both China and Pakistan have also staged the evacuation of people seeking to get out of Yemen but India's has been the biggest rescue exercise with the deployment of its naval and merchant ships and civilian and air force aircraft in a well-coordinated operation. Three naval ships, two merchant vessels, chartered Air India planes and two large transport aircrafts of the Indian Air Force were involved to pull out more than 5000 people from Yemen. The operation--primarily a diplomatic and humanitarian exercise--was coordinated by a task force that worked out of the tiny African country, Djibouti.
The major chunk of those evacuated was no doubt Indian nationals—over 4,000 of them—but the Indian effort also helped people from more than two dozen other countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and the US, the Netherlands and Pakistan. Pakistan has, in turn, taken 11 Indians along with their nationals and flew the Indians by a special aircraft to India. Neither India nor Pakistan had made any request to each other for evacuating their nationals from Yemen and yet when the crunch hour came, they did.
The world has appreciated India's ability to move so many people out of a war-ravaged country. More importantly, it has shown how a situation of crisis opens up opportunities for cooperation among countries, despite differences among them on other issues.
The larger message of India's evacuation is, however, for countries in South and South East Asia, the two regions which had earlier commended the assistance of the Indian Navy at the time of the Tsunami in December 2004. Whether it is cyclone, earthquake, tidal waves of other forms of humanitarian crisis, India, despite its limited resources with crew and material, has been in the forefront of leading cooperative efforts in the regions. Adversity brings out the best side of every country, as they help each other irrespective of their differences on a host of other issues. This may sound like mere posturing but in reality, global crises do need countries to come together and work together on joint solutions.
If the evacuation from Yemen once again shows India as an emerging power in Indian Ocean region, it also underlines that to be more effective on a larger scale, India needs a much stronger navy and air force not just for military operations but to respond to humanitarian crisis and ensure peaceful coexistence, trade and commerce in the region in the face of sea piracy and narco-terrorism. This was evident when the Indian navy had joined international efforts to counter Somali pirates a few years ago.
In the case of Yemen, India had struggled initially for some days to scale up its rescue efforts and had to hire a ship to evacuate its nationals from the port of Aden as fighting escalated there. While Air India planes were positioned in Oman, Yemen's next door neighbour, India found it impossible to negotiate the opening of a safe air corridor with Saudi Arabia. However, things got moving with the deployment of junior Minister for External Affairs V K Singh to Djibouti, on the other side of the Gulf of Aden, from where Indian Air Force C-17 transporters picked up evacuees brought out by Air India from Aden and flying them home.
Coming back to implications of India's evacuation efforts, the question that naturally crops up is: should South Asian countries require a common crisis situation for their nationals in a far-away land to help each other? If a war or a natural disaster can act as glue for them to help each other, why can't they do the same at other times? Why should it require adversity, and not common prosperity, to forge unity among the countries? After all, all kinds of situations touch human lives.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist.