As India’s “Operation Kaveri”, launched to evacuate Indians stuck inside war-torn Sudan is underway, the government is making the most of a 72-hour ceasefire window to bring out about 3,000 civilians. The operation, which involves the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy, is being coordinated by the Ministry of External Affairs. Given the heavy fighting in Khartoum between forces loyal to the head of the ruling council, General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, who also heads the Sudanese Armed Forces, and his former deputy, Gen. Mohammed “Hemeti” Hamdan Dagalo of the paramilitary group, RSF, most civilians are being brought by road to Port Sudan, a perilous journey, to be evacuated by air and sea. India has been coordinating efforts with other countries that have the most civilians and resources in Sudan, including the U.S., the U.K., the UAE and Saudi Arabia, on logistics, timing the evacuation operations, and even using Saudi and French planes. En route to the Caribbean for a scheduled visit, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also met with the UN Secretary General in New York to seek help. It is clear that military personnel, officials and diplomats will have a difficult few days ahead given that even humanitarian workers and ambulances have been attacked. They have no doubt been assisted by the cumulative experience of similar operations over the decades, beginning with the largest such single civilian evacuation during the Gulf war, in 1991.
The Sudan evacuation brings once more into focus the particular challenges that India faces in any conflict. With about 14 million non-resident Indians and more than seven million tourists and travellers each year, there is practically no conflict today that does not affect an Indian citizen. Given that many work in the most dangerous environments — examples being students in Ukraine, nurses in Iraq or Yemen, or labourers in Libya, Syria and Lebanon — the responsibility of the government to help those without the means to return to safety is greater. As a result, a standard operating procedure, and even possibly a special force to deal with such crises — as recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for External Affairs, in 2022 — must be considered by the government. It is also essential that such crises be devoid of political grand-standing or finger-pointing, and that unseemly public spats over the evacuation, or unnecessary controversies over garnering domestic political mileage be avoided. India is admired for its reputation and ability to harness all its resources in rescuing every single citizen in any corner of the world, every time they are in need. That reputation must remain intact.