Despite extensive experience in conducting evacuation operations of its citizens abroad, India still needs to institutionalize best practices
Issue: Capacity building in conducting evacuation operations
A stark improvement
In the first few paragraphs, author cites the extraordinary evacuation conducted in April 2015 under Operation Raahat& compares it with the shoddy evacuation scenario of 850 Indian nationals during civil war in South Yemen in 1986, describing how far we have come
Significance of capacity building
The increasing size and complexity of the diaspora requires the government to expand capacity and improve procedures.
- Size of diaspora: More than 11 million Indians now reside abroad and 20 million travel internationally every year
- Political instability:As political instability rattles the West Asian region, which hosts more than seven million Indians, the government can no longer rely on heroic efforts by individual officials or quick-fix solutions
What needs to be done?
- Learning from the experience: The government will need to build on its rich experience in conducting more than 30 evacuation operations since the 1950s.
- Policy-oriented research: By supporting policy-oriented research at universities and think tanks to document the memory of senior officials, the government would also facilitate the transmission of their expertise to younger officials
- Avoiding a jugaad: The government must avoid the jugaad approach. Every evacuation case is unique, given the specific nature and location of the crisis, but this should not preclude an analytical attempt to formulate a blueprint that lists core tasks for all operations
- Preparing a manual: An inter-ministerial committee should prepare a manual with guidelines that establish a clear chain of command and division of competencies; identify regional support bases, assembly points and routes for evacuation; develop country-specific warden systems to communicate with expatriates; and establish evacuation priority and embarkation criteria
Embarkation: Itis the process of loading a passenger ship or an airplane with passengers or military personnel, related to and overlapping with individual boarding on aircraft and ships
- Training India’s diplomats: India’s diplomatic cadre must be given specific training to operate in hostile environments
- To achieve this, the government could instruct the police or army to train Indian Foreign Service probationers to operate in war zones; conduct frequent evacuation simulations and emergency drills; and create rapid reaction teams of Indian security personnel to be deployed to protect diplomatic staff and installations abroad
- Working closely with countries having a sizeable expatriate population: The success of future operations will also rely on New Delhi’s willingness to work together with friendly governments. India will have to invest in cooperative frameworks that facilitate coordination among countries that have large expatriate populations in West Asia, in particular Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and among leading powers with evacuation capacity in the Indian Ocean region.
- Assigning a greater role to army: The government will have to assign a greater role to its armed forces, in particular by strengthening the Navy and Air Force’s capacity to operate in tandem with civilian authorities
- Developing a NEO doctrine: It should, for example, direct the military to develop a non-combatant evacuation (NEO) doctrine, designate the Integrated Defence Staff as the nodal organisation to improve inter-services and civil-military coordination, direct the services to conduct more multilateral NEO exercises, and adapt military modernization plans to increase capacity for out-of-area deployment and evacuation.
- Inter-ministerial coordinating mechanism: To minimize redundancies, the government must institutionalize a permanent inter-ministerial coordinating mechanism for emergency evacuations, incentivise inter-agency cross-posting of officials dealing with diaspora affairs, and encourage State governments to create regional contingency plans.
- Establishing a permanent civil reserve fleet: To avoid cost inflation and delays, the government must establish a permanent civil reserve air fleet that pools aircraft from all Indian airlines based on pre-established requisition and reimbursement procedures.
- Monitoring the diaspora: The government will have to invest in new technologies to better monitor the diaspora’s profile and mobility. This can be achieved by
- Encouraging more diplomatic missions to provide online consular registration forms
- Developing an online registration system for overseas travelers
- Utilizing social media
- By making the Aadhaar card compulsory to facilitate biometric identity verification and reduce identity fraud during evacuation
Managing public opinion during crisis: The government must expand efforts to manage public opinion and be able to conduct a quiet diplomacy that is crucial to safely extricate Overseas Indians from conflict zones. To reduce domestic pressures,
- It should embed media representatives more frequently in such missions
- Reassure the diaspora by ensuring that high-level political representatives are personally engaged
- Avoid raising expectations by clearly distinguishing Indian citizens from people of Indian origin
Author concludes by stating that India has extensive experience in conducting evacuation operations, but to secure the lives and assets of Indians abroad, the government must avoid an ad hoc approach and seek to institutionalize best practices, improvecoordination and capabilities, both diplomatic and military