Akshay Kumar's Bollywood Great Airlift of 160,000 Indians, not from Kuwait but Amman(Jordan)
Akshay Kumar on Airlift: What India had done in 1990 is not a matter of joke
Directed by Raja Menon, Airlift is about those 1,70,000 Indians stranded in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein invaded the country in 1990, and kick-started the Gulf War.
Times of India
- 34 minutes ago
Actor Akshay Kumar says he felt the pain that refugees went through during the filming of his forthcoming movie 'Airlift', based on evacuation of Indians from Kuwait during the Iraq-Kuwait war.----
At the Delhi press conference of the film, Akshay Kumar had a snippet or two to share about his latest patriotic venture, Airlift. Talking about the ideology behind the film, Akshay told reporters, "Is film ka nazariya yeh hai ki hum dikahana chahte hai - dikhana kya, yeh hakikat mein hai - India is the greatest country in the world. This is a real story of what happened to 1,70,000 Indians who were in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein had attacked the country in 1990. They didn't know where to go, what to do and had only one hope: calling out to their nation for help. And aapko yeh jaanke khushi hogi ki hamare jo Air India ke pilots hai unhone uss time risk uthaya and 488 flights (Kuwait ke) andar lekar gaye aur sabko bachake le aaye. This is why I chose to do this film."
INDIAN CITIZEN'S COMMITTEE
Patron H.E ; Prem Singh
Ambassador of India
Chairman: H.S, Vedi
Vice Chairman: Raman Sharma
Secretary: Mathew Kurvilla
To ; Shri P.V. Narsimha Roa ,.
Prime Minister of India ,
INDIAN CITIZEN'S COMMITTEE which was formed on the dusty evening of 2nd Aug. 1990
the day of lraqi brutal invasion of' Kuwait met in the afternoon of Friday the 1st April 1994 at its
office in Shaab Kuwait and unanimously passed thc attached resolution.
2nd April I994..
1. Shri Dinesh Singh E.A.M, N. Delhi
2. Shri Salman Khursheed M.E A - N: Delhi
3. Shri K. Sri Niwasun F.S - N. Delhi
4. Secretary to President of India - N. Delhi
Resolution By Indian Citizen's
Committee Kuwait On 1st April 1994
We are extremely happy to have with us today H.E. Gajendra Singh presently Indian ambassador to Turkey, who is one of the few persons who will long be remembered in our minds and recorded in the history of evacuation of Indian citizens of Kuwait for his long dedicated and unstinted services during the dark and black days of vicious Iraqi occupation of Kuwait when he was to our good luck stationed in Amman as our Indian Ambassador.
During the seven months long period from Aug. 1990 to March 1991, the Indian Embassy in Amman under his unflinching leadership imbued with compassion for the plight of Indian evacuees that went beyond the call of duty, in the Herculean task of arranging transport for Indian citizens of Kuwait from the Iraqi Jordanian border, some times even from Baghdad, upto Amman to a distance of over 250 KM and refugee camps, reception and migration for citizens etc. at the border and in Amman, boarding , loading in Amman upto mid Sept. 1990 till international Agencies established refugee camps and finally making sure that our citizens reached India safely. It took nearly six hundred air flights including 420 Air India Flights, an aviation history record to evacuate nearly 140,000 Indian citizens from Amman.
Ambassador Singh stuck to his duties even during the war days of Jan/Feb, 1991, evacuating thousand of Indian citizens including nurses, under most trying and dangerous conditions.
We the members of the Indian Citizens Committee in Kuwait express our sincere thanks and gratitude to you for shouldering such enormous responsibilities under tremendous physical and functional tensions, working round the clock for months without any break during this period.
We had noted with satisfaction that your services and those of your colleagues were widely acclaimed in lndian media including Times of lndia, Indian Express, India To day etc. and even in the international media. The Crown Prince of Jordan, the foreign Minister of Bhutan, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and other organizations, praised the remarkable work "of the Indian Embassy in Amman.
We have, therefore, learnt with great sorrow and anguish that the Govt. of India instead decorating you for your services, have instead punished you in 1992 and 1993 on the basis of
false allegations. We firmly believe and request the Government of India to undo this grave miscarriage of justice and accord you the reward and acclaim which you so surely deserve.
We also are reminded of your meetings with many of us with severe mental, physical tension, sick and dead where you kindly attention and services were of great solace.
We also are aware that had the Govt. of Indian then fully complied with your recommendations, the operation of refugee exodus would have been much smoother.
We also note with utter shame that so called national leaders of that time displayed utter ignorance and incompetence and arrogance in dealing with the situation and further making unforgivable statements in foreign countries . Their graceless behavior left a very bad impression with Jordanian leaders.
We recommend a high level enquiry to the Mismanagement of evacuation Sub-committee of Ministry of External Affairs.
P.O.Box 23228 Safat, Kuwait 13093
Tel: 2624719 - Fax 2623124
NEXT DAY KUWAIT TIMES ,WHILE COVERING THIS MEETING HEADLINED IT AS' INDIANS" WELCOME WAR HERO ( INDIAN AMBASSADOR IN AMMAN AND HIS STAFF ), ONLY WITH TWO OFFICERS TO BEGIN WITH)
FOUNDATION FOR INDO-TURKIC STUDIES
Tel/Fax ; 004016374602 Amb (Rtd) K Gajendra Singh
Emails; Gajendrak@hotmail.com Flat No 5, 3rd Floor
KGSingh@Yahoo.com 9, Sos Cotroceni,
Web site W3.geocities.com/Kgsngh Bucharest (Romania ).
12 December, 2002
ASIA TIMES online –December 13, 2002
Gulf crisis: Lessons from 1991
K Gajendra Singh, who was stationed in Amman as India's ambassador to Jordan during the Gulf crisis of 1990-91, recalls the frantic efforts and bureaucratic bungling in handling the flood of Indian refugee workers from the troubled region. And he ponders whether the Indian government is any better prepared this time around. Ed
Gulf crisis: Lessons from 1991 http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/DL13Df01.html
By K Gajendra Singh
Dinner on January 15, 1991, at the Indian embassy residence in Amman, the capital of Jordan, turned out to be a much bigger affair than I had bargained for. On January 1, I had casually asked US Ambassador Roger Harrison if he would be free for dinner on the 15th, the deadline given by the coalition led by US President George H W Bush to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, which he had invaded in August 1990.
When Roger said yes, apart from senior Jordanian officials, journalists and others, I also invited ambassadors from the countries represented in the Security Council, my human shield against the coalition attack, as I jokingly remarked. Soon word went round and everyone wanted to join in, and suddenly 70 guests were expected.
I had to dust off ceremonial and personal crockery and cutlery, and set up bridge tables and garden chairs to seat them all. I also had to borrow my cook's TV so that guests could watch King Hussein deliver a stirring speech on Jordanian TV as many were already watching the latest news from Israeli TV. CNN had not yet reached Amman. Guests were sprawled on sofas and wandering through my study and bedrooms. When King Hussein heard about this unusual get together, he remarked that only an ambassador from India could have thought of such a dinner. A great compliment indeed.
Most embassies in Amman had already sent their families home and were functioning on skeleton staff. The cook at the Chinese embassy, though, was considered essential, and understandably, as I have never eaten such tasty Chinese food. There were regular meetings among ambassadors. Tony, the British envoy, would turn up on odd occasions for a spot of bridge to take our minds off the mounting tension. No politics, we had agreed. Once, he got me three down doubled (a rare thing). Tony was delighted, "I do not care if Saddam wins now," he teased. His armed bodyguard would watch TV with my cook, sharing samosas. The Romanian ambassador handed out gas masks designed for oil drilling while the Chinese loaded me with various safety devices to counter poisonous biological attacks. But I used to show them the strong life line on my hand and say that nothing untoward was indicated.
The worst case nightmare for the coalition was that a few germ-loaded Iraqi Scuds (which we could see over the Amman sky cruising towards Israel) would kill a few hundred Israelis, and even the presence of senior US officials stationed in Israel to restrain them would not have stopped the Israelis from joining in the fray and directly marching to Iraq, the first stop being Amman. In the event of that happening, the coalition, almost a mini-UN force, with Pakistani, Egyptian and even Syrian and other Muslim troops in it for the money and other considerations, would have been impossible to hold together.
In this contingency, Western diplomats were to rush to the desert southeast of Amman, from where helicopters would ferry them to war ships positioned in the Gulf of Aqaba, cruising there to enforce the embargo against Iraq. The embassy Indians, though, were to remain in Amman as the ministry in New Delhi could not accommodate the families in its hostels. So our plan was to get into our cars and speed north, if we could, for shelter with the Indian ambassador and his colleagues in Damascus, the capital of Syria.
Having seen rich Indians from Kuwait reduced to sharing or fighting for food or a bottle of water with their workers in the infamous Shalan camp on the way from Kuwait to Jordan via Iraq, the only thing worth saving, I used to say, were my 10 favorite and priceless long-playing records. Only Jordan had kept its borders open with Iraq, so Amman was the only point for entry and exit from Iraq.
Meanwhile, during the evening of January 15, there was an atmosphere of great gaiety and excitement, with adrenaline levels running high after months of anxiety. Apart from sharing an historic evening and exchanging the latest news, everyone was dying to see my collection of LPs. Among them were; Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Amir Ali Khan, Beethoven, Strauss, Chopin and Mozart. But only Lata Mangeshkar had two LPs in this set, and people were asking who she was. I had to tell them she was one of India's all-time great singers and she had sent me two autographed records (Geeta and Ghazals) after a meeting in 1974 in Paris, where I was then posted. My family and I, aware that she sang only light music, and fearful that thousands of people might be about to die, put on the funereal Requiem. But animated and absorbed in conversation, few heard it. But Roger did, and we both became very sad.
The grand coalition attack on Iraqi forces did not begin that night. It came the next day, January 16, actually in the early hours of the 17th. Despite requests to all journalists to inform us immediately, and a pact with other ambassadors to inform each other, my son Tinoo from New York was the first to telephone me at 00210 hrs (LST) on January 17, and tell me that the attack on Iraq had commenced. Only just woken up, I queried how the hell did he know. CNN, he said. Soon journalists from the Jordan Times and others followed with calls. No wonder that world presidents and others confess that they learn about world events first from CNN. It takes too long for secret messages to be coded and decoded in the chancelleries.
August 2, 1990: The Gulf crisis begins
It all began on August 2, 1990. A day earlier, I had been in the Nabatean pink city of Petra, in the south of Jordan, some 262 kilometers from Amman, once the stronghold of the gifted Nabateans, an early Arab people. The Victorian traveler and poet, Dean Burgeon, gave Petra a description that holds to this day, "Match me such a marvel save in Eastern clime, a rose red city half as old as time."
After a morning visit to the sprawling ruins, just before going for lunch at the hotel restaurant, as per habit, I switched on the BBC news. The news of Iraqi troops entering Kuwait shocked me out of my reveries of the magnificent pink Hazane (treasury ) monument that suddenly comes into view as one rides through a narrow gorge. Truly a marvelous sight. Although Baghdad was 1,200 kilometers from Amman and Kuwait even farther, after three decades in diplomacy I instinctively felt that something was seriously amiss. The next morning I returned to Amman, although I had planned to explore Petra at leisure.
Yes, tension had been building up between Kuwait and Iraq, but an invasion was not on the cards; after all, inter-Arab tensions are not exactly uncommon. The last round of negotiations between Iraq and Kuwait in Jeddah over disputed territory had collapsed on August 1, and Saddam Hussein was incensed, feeling squeezed. Instead of being grateful, Kuwait, with encouragement from the West, was insisting on the repayment of "loans", and it was flooding the oil market, thus lowering the price of a barrel of oil from US$18 to $12 to $14, which hurt Iraq the most.
Saddam also felt that he had saved the Arab Gulf states, many with large Shi'ite populations, from the fury of the Shi'ite revolution in Iran, for which he had been lauded by the Arab masses and governments, and gifted billions of dollars and friendly loans. Western nations, notably the United Kingdom, France and even the US, granted him credit, dual use of technology, chemicals and machinery and even aerial intelligence on Iranian forces.
And of course there remains the mystery and enigma of the full details of the last meeting between the US ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, and Saddam in Baghdad on July 25, when she told Saddam that his dispute with Kuwait was a bilateral Arab matter. Glaspie then disappeared from public view, and was barred from giving interviews or writing a book. The Western media did not pursue her as they do others, and with a few exceptions the media have subsequently functioned as a handmaiden of the Pentagon and Western spokesmen.
In the first week of August, there were hectic international political developments, with King Hussein of Jordan playing an active and constructive role in trying to defuse Iraqi aggression with an Arab solution, with help from Saudi and Egyptian leaders. There have been various versions of these events, but it appears that the US finally prevailed on President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, so dependent on US aid, and he fell into line.
On returning to Delhi in 1984 after six years, having headed missions in Dakar (Senegal) and Bucharest (Romania), I served as chairman-managing director of the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals company, with 13,000 personnel in five units, and established the Foreign Service Training Institute in New Delhi. So my posting in July 1989 to Amman, with only a first secretary and an attache, was considered a light mission. So in Amman my bridge game improved, but I was getting distrait - bored - as the French would say. But this was only the lull before the storm.
From India's point of view, the serious issue was the safety of its foreign workers - about 180,000 in Kuwait and 10,000 in Iraq. By early August they had started to trickle into Amman as refugees. The earliest batches were mostly Indian Hajis - pilgrims to Mecca - a thousand odd, who had been stranded as Air India flights to Iraq and back had been cancelled after August 2. After Mecca, many Hajis, specially Shi'ites, go on a pilgrimage to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in neighboring Iraq.
But soon the numbers of refugees from Kuwait reaching the Amman embassy started growing. In the beginning, whatever the time of the day or night, the small Indian staff of half a dozen would rush to make tea or buy food to make the tired Indian arrivals feel at home. In the evening, the embassy would telephone that two or three more buses had arrived from Baghdad - 100 or 150 Indians. This meant arranging places to stay, and providing food until air transport to India could be arranged. Soon the staff were exhausted, but their dedication and that of others who were deputed to help the embassy later, barring a few black sheep, never flagged.
There were more frequent meetings between ambassadors. I would see Crown Prince Hassan and other important persons to assess the political situation and its likely impact on the influx of refugees. In between, I made a few trips to the Jordan-Iraq border, where there was little in terms of facilities and infrastructure. But we had still not envisaged the deluge that was to hit us.
Soon, Amman became vital as it was the only point of access to Baghdad by air, road or telephone. Apart from short telephone contacts allowed between me and the Indian ambassador in Baghdad (the Indian ambassador to Kuwait had shifted to Basra), Iraq and Kuwait were effectively cut off from the world. So, with other countries closing their borders, apart from the refugee flood, Amman became the staging point for international politicians and others visiting Iraq. Soon, too, Amman was crawling with international media.
Because of more than half of Jordan's population being of Palestinian origin and Yasser Arafat's full reciprocal support to Saddam, and Amman's close relations with Iraq, there were regular demonstrations in Amman in support of Saddam and Iraq. Jordan TV gave the Iraqi viewpoint, which was drowned elsewhere by anti-Saddam rhetoric spread by the Western media. For us, the Western viewpoint was available from Israeli TV, across the Jordan Valley 40 kilometers away. It was necessary to keep a watch on political developments to help assess their impact on the influx of refugees.
Jordan had only a small Indian community, mostly workers earning barely $75 to $100 per month, hoping to migrate to better-paying Gulf states. We hired some of them to help us out. Only a few families were well off, but I regret to say that we were let down. In the first week of refugee arrivals, before we had assessed the situation, we requested one family completing a big project to put a van at our disposal. This was refused. We requested another Indian who had an empty warehouse to let us use it to temporarily house the refugees. He also refused. In countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran or Turkey, where only a few thousand refugees in all went in the first few days, there was full support from the well-organized and large Indian communities. Soon, we started hiring whatever accommodation we could find in hotels and flats, and making arrangements for food.
Nearly a million refugees, a majority from Egypt, mostly working in Iraq, and Yemenis and others transited through Jordan, a country of less than 4 million. It was the equivalent of 200 million refugees wading through India and using its infrastructure. There was pressure on accommodation, food and transport and decisions had to be taken on the spot. Apart from morning and evening policy sessions with my colleagues, I would invite them by turn for a meal to maintain espirit de corps and I tried to make their living conditions as smooth as possible. They were working 14 to 18 hours every day, many even when ill and down with fever. The main stress was on patience against all provocation from the refugees, who, while they had been silent while in Kuwait or Iraq, started shouting and abusing once they saw Indian embassy personnel. As the majority of the refugees were from Kerala in India, four officers who had come to assist us had to pretend that they did not understand the abuses showered on them in Malyali. Some of our personnel were even assaulted and embassy cars stoned by tired and jittery Indian refugees. On many occasions the Jordan police had to step in.
The Indian government did not appreciate the gravity of the situation and gave us too little too late. In a fast-changing situation, when I requested Delhi to depute more staff, they quoted back the previous week's telegram. They even sent a junior officer to study the situation, who, on arrival, appeared more interested in visiting Petra. We had to carry out the evacuation as per normal rules designed for a few or 50 or even 100-odd stranded Indians abroad. We had to follow them, even though three to four thousand Indians per day were flying out on 10 to 15 Air India and International Movement Organization (IMO) flights. This included making them sign indemnity bonds and providing individual tickets. Despite my pleas, these superfluous formalities were not done away with. It meant queuing up for registration, air tickets and the return of forms etc, by tired and hungry refugees, even when there were up to 8,000 of them in Amman.
Once the evacuation was over, the government of India did decide to waive the indemnity ie repayment of the cost of the ticket. In 106 charity flights organized for Indians by the IOM, the only formality was the registration of the passengers in the flight manifest with passport details, etc. Without time-consuming and unnecessary formalities, the refugees would have been saved much stress and strain and my colleagues (15 to 25 at the peak ), who had to be at the embassy, hotels, apartment blocks, airports, border points and even in no man's land, could have devoted more time to looking after the comforts of the evacuees.
External Affairs Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, during his transit stay in Amman in early August 1990 on the way to his famous hug with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and the "Millionaire's flight" in an Indian Air Force aircraft from Kuwait, as the media described it, appeared curiously reluctant to meet King Hussein and Crown Prince Hassan. They received him with great warmth and brought him up to date on the situation, of which he appeared to have little grasp. Later, a non-professional Indian diplomat was sent to Amman by Gujral, who wanted to be included with King Hussein and King Hassan of Morocco, then planning to take a peace mission to Saddam. The Hashemite palace was most embarrassed. Gujral made extravagant promises to Indians in Kuwait, such as flying them out from Basra and Baghdad, with planes waiting for them. In my office, Gujral told waiting Indian refugees that they would get air tickets for their home towns on arrival in Bombay. All they got were the lowest class train tickets. He was making extravagant promises as if he were fighting a parliamentary election.
To overcome the staff shortage problem at the embassy on a permanent basis, Gujral, in consultation with the Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey, selected an officer. But that officer never reached Amman to assist "people like us". Gujral kept shouting at everyone in Amman until he left for Baghdad, much to the disgust of the officers and staff who had just started trickling in from India to assist us in our monumental task, which even we had not envisaged. Gujral appeared to be edgy, short-tempered and rude. But much worse was to follow. Except for Civil Aviation Minister Arif Mohammed Khan, who flew in with the first Air India plane on August 12, who was a gentleman of the old school.
It speaks volumes for the Indian government's perspective and contingency planning under I K Gujral and the foreign secretary that it held the only conference of Indian ambassadors in the region to discuss the refugee problem and international political developments just a few days before the deadline for Iraq's withdrawal on January 15.
Now the US, with support from the UK, is threatening a war and regime change in Iraq. If it takes place, it will be a terribly messy affair, overflowing if not involving neighboring Turkey and the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, which is also under scrutiny and attack by the hawks in the US administration. Unlike 1990-91, when they were enthusiastic allies, these states are now reluctant to support the US' unilateral action. The gulf region has nearly 5 million Indian workers. The question is, has the Indian government learned from its mistakes, and is it prepared this time around?
K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal.
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