The top secret “deal” to get the 46 Indian nurses released from captivity was struck with the ISIS captors Thursday night itself as they were being moved from Tikrit to Mosul, The Sunday Express has learnt. However, given the “tenuous links” in a conflict situation, South Block was waiting for confirmation and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj kept awake and was being updated by officials about the developments till 2 am Friday.
In fact, that was the reason Indian officials were sent to Erbil — beforehand — to receive these nurses at the border on Friday.
Over the past two weeks as the Iraq crisis deepened and it became clear that at least 85 Indians were in a hostage situation, India activated all diplomatic and non-diplomatic channels to secure the release of those in the captivity of the ISIS. It is learnt that the “deal” to get them released was struck through a set of “intermediaries”, who had access to the captors.
Top government sources said the “same intermediaries” — who were used in securing the release of the 46 nurses — have now been tasked with negotiating with the captors for freeing the 39 Indians in Mosul. “We don’t want to jeopardise the next stage of rescue operation, by divulging the details of our intermediaries right now,” a top government source said.
Sources privy to the negotiations said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made at least 18 phone calls to her counterparts and other players in the region in the past few days to make “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 she had reached out to top levels in the US administration and several European governments for information about the captors, their capabilities, and their intentions regarding the hostages. At least two of these channels have worked and 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 still being kept a secret, since another rescue mission is underway for the 39 abducted Indians, it is clear that the government was talking to both state as well as non-state actors — initially through the intermediaries and at the crucial stages even directly.
Government sources said there were at least 25 meetings in the past two weeks to deal with the crisis. These meetings were usually attended by Sushma, NSA Ajit Doval, Secretary (east) Anil Wadhwa, Joint Secretary (Gulf) Mridul Kumar, joint secretary (West Asia and North Africa) Sandeep Kumar and officials from the intelligence agencies.
In fact, Sushma attended several conference calls while she was in Dhaka where she was briefed by MEA’s secretary (east) Anil Wadhwa even when she was meeting Bangladesh leadership, from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Foreign minister A H Mahmood Ali — as the situation unfolded in Iraq.