A day after they were released by Sunni militants in Iraq, 46 Indian nurses returned home on Saturday. The special Air India flight had about 170 Indians on board, including many who were working in Kirkuk.
The flight, which left Erbil in the early hours of Thursday, landed at the Kochi International Airport at 11:50 am, where the nurses were received by Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The plane then headed to Hyderabad, where 70 disembarked, before finally reaching New Delhi with the remaining 54 Indian workers.
An emotional and warm welcome awaited the nurses at the Kochi airport as they reunited with their families after speedy immigration clearance at special counters. Their waiting relatives shed tears of happiness as they hugged them.
Their release followed hectic negotiations as India activated all diplomatic and non-diplomatic channels over the last fortnight. In fact, the top secret “deal” with the militants is learnt to have been struck by Thursday night itself, when the nurses were being moved from Tikrit to Mosul. Indian officials were sent to Erbil beforehand to receive the nurses at a border checkpost on Friday. But given the “tenuous links” in a conflict situation, South Block was waiting for confirmation, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj being updated on the developments till 2 am on Friday.
It is learnt that the “deal” was struck through a set of “intermediaries” who had access to the captors. Top government sources said the “same intermediaries” have now been asked to negotiate with the militants for freeing the 39 Indians in Mosul. “We don’t want to jeopardise the next stage of rescue operations by divulging the details of our intermediaries right now,” said a source.
Sources privy to the negotiations said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made at least 18 phone calls to her counterparts and others in the region over the last few days, making “personal requests” on behalf of the Indian government. These include phone calls to the six Gulf countries — Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.
It is reliably learnt that Swaraj also reached out to the top levels in the US administration and several European governments for information on the Sunni militants, their capabilities and intentions regarding the hostages. At least two of these channels provided support to the ground level negotiations being carried out by India’s former ambassador to Iraq, Suresh Reddy, who is currently stationed in Baghdad.
While the information about who actually helped is not being divulged, it is quite continued…