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Libyan crisis: India must act as an elder brother

By Colonel Anil Athale
March 01, 2011 19:10 IST
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India has often been accused by the smaller neighbours in South Asia as acting like a 'Big Brother'.

Unfortunately ever since the George Orwell's classic work Nineteen Eighty-four, the phrase has acquired a negative connotation, hence a more sub-continental phrase -- Elder Brother -- is used here.

Ever since the oil boom of 1970s, the population surplus South Asia has been supplying manpower to the Middle East including Libya.

Bulk of the South Asians working in these far off land, are from poor strata and do low paid menial jobs. However given the high wages, a job in the oil rich region is seen as a passport to escape from poverty back home. In case of political turmoil as seen today, these hapless people are the first victims.

India as the predominant power in the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation ought to act as the saviour for not just the Indians stranded in Libya, but nationals of other smaller countries as well.

India has already taken the decision to dispatch a naval task force to the troubled country and offered help to Sri Lankans. But we must give up our timidity and take a leading role. We have the wherewithal to do it.

The Gulf War I in 1990 saw India mount one of the biggest civilian evacuations.

Operations carried out between August 13 and October 11, 1990 -- Indian national airline Air India entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the most people evacuated by a civil airliner.

Over 111,000 people were evacuated from Amman to Mumbai -- a distance of 4,117 km, by operating 488 flights in association with Indian Airlines -- lasting 59 days. If we did it then, we can do it again. The numbers involved are much less and our capability is also greater today.

Indian foreign ministry must take the lead and contact the other SAARC nations, and offer this help. There are reports that Pakistan, with a large number of expatriates there, is finding it difficult to evacuate its nationals. We must make this offer of assistance to Pakistan as well. This would be a far better CBM (Confidence Building Measure) than candle lighting at Wagah border.

But irrespective of Pakistan response, which is likely to be negative, we must nevertheless offer our help to others like Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is time to act as elder brother to our smaller neighbours.

Col Athale is coordinator of Pune-based think tank Initiative for Peace and Disarmament

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