The nation has heaved a sigh of relief over the safe return of 137 Indians, including 46 nurses, from war-torn Iraq on Saturday. The Narendra Modi government has every reason to be satisfied with the completion of the successful mission. It is a remarkable feat, particularly in the wake of reports that the Indian aircraft was initially refused permission to land in Iraq. The central and Kerala governments and the Indian mission in Iraq all co-ordinated their efforts so well that the nurses and others were received by their happy relatives in Mumbai, Kochi, Hyderabad and Delhi. Leaders of all political parties were present at Kochi where the state had made elaborate arrangements for their onward journeys.
However well-executed the strategy is, it does not entitle the Modi government to sit and relax. There are thousands of Indians, some of them in the custody of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which has set up a caliphate under its supreme commander, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The first and foremost task of the government is to bring them back safely as early as possible. It is possible only with the cooperation of the Iraqi government and using all the resources that were tapped to bring the nurses back. In other words, the government should consider evacuating Indians as just a battle in a long war. The tasks for India are, in fact, too many.
The greatest challenge facing not just India but all democratic countries is the growing spectre of terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. The ISIS is so confident after the relatively easy success it achieved in the Sunni areas in Iraq that its leader has even dared to appear in public and give a well-choreographed address from the pulpit of a grand mosque in Mosul. Even the al-Qaeda chief, the late Osama bin Laden, never dared to speak in public. India should establish greater co-ordination with other countries and their anti-terror organisations. At the same time, it should also scale up the expertise of its own agencies to meet the new challenges.