India has at long last woken up to the need to respond to the fast deteriorating situation in Iraq. The external affairs ministry has called India’s ambassador to Baghdad for consultations and sent a special envoy to Mosul to find ways to extricate Indians trapped in the war-torn nation. Apart from issuing a travel advisory, New Delhi has done precious little to respond to the new developments. There are about 20,000 Indians, mostly in the safe Kurds-dominated region. Nobody can predict how the situation in Iraq, where the Sunnis and the Shiites have been at each other’s throats, will eventually play out but India cannot remain a passive onlooker.
The flare-up in the region will have dangerous consequences for India. It is bound to affect the interests of Indian expatriates in the Gulf, as can be inferred from what happened when Saddam Hussain captured Kuwait and the allied forces led by the US-liberated Kuwait and toppled his regime. India must adopt a clear-cut policy that takes into account not just the future of the Indians there but also the welfare of the Iraqi people. Though the Iraqi regime has not been conducting itself in the best traditions of democracy and paying heed to the sectarian divide among the people, India has to come out in support of status quo in Baghdad.
New Delhi cannot remain neutral, when Sunni Islamists owing allegiance to al-Qaeda have been causing rampage capturing city after city, killing Iraqi government officials and threatening to flatten sacred Shiite shrines, situated all over Iraq. They are a menace to not only the Iraqis but also the adherents of democracy the world over. India must join hands with the Iraqi government, UN agencies, the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent to protect the interests of the Indians there. While beefing up security in the Indian mission in Baghdad and elsewhere, it should also draw up a contingency plan to evacuate Indians to safer places. In no case should they be allowed to be caught in the Sunni-Shia crossfire.