Operation Dost: India’s humanitarian aid to Turkiye and Syria

Will it help revive Indo-Turkish ties?


February 15, 2023

/ By / New Delhi

Operation Dost: India’s humanitarian aid to Turkiye and Syria

India under Operation Dost, has so far sent in 7 planes with 5,950.3 tonnes of materials and 99 personnel to aid Turkiye and Syria

Within a day of the catastrophic earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria last week, India sent in plane loads of rescue personnel and relief materials. About a week later, even as relief operations continue and death toll stands at well above 50,000, the Indian operations have emerged as one of the most significant and wide-ranging ones mounted by international community. The rapid, extensive and efficient assistance provided by India to Turkiye in this moment of grave humanitarian crisis is an opportune moment for both the countries to revive their bilateral relationship that has been under a strain for the past few years.

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On February 12, yet another special flight of Indian Air Force transport plane C17 Hercules landed at Turkiye’s Adana airport. The plane carried tonnes of relief material for the earthquake-stricken people of southern Turkiye. According to a tweet by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the material aboard included medical equipment like patient monitor, ECG, syringe pumps and disaster relief material, along with supplies for the Indian relief teams on the ground.

Starting with the first plane-load that landed at Adana, Turiye on February 7, carrying essentially rescue teams of National Disaster Management Agency and the Indian Army and materials for carrying out rescue operations as well as setting up of field hospitals, India, under Operation Dost (Friend), has so far sent in 7 planes with 5,950.3 tonnes of materials and 99 personnel to aid Turkiye and Syria. Seven four-wheeled vehicles and trucks, apart from four canines, were sent along with the three teams that were airlifted by an Indian Air Force (IAF) C-17 heavy lift aircraft from the Hindon air base in Ghaziabad to the Adana airport in Turkiye.

Specialised equipment and other relief materials weighing over 135 tonnes were sent to Turkiye whereas emergency medicines and equipment, including portable ECG machines, patient monitors, and other essential medical items, have been sent to Syria.

In Turkiye, the cities of Antakya and Gazantiep are amongst the worst hit, and in Syria, Alleppo and Idlib have been impacted brutally and over 9 days later, the death toll has continued to rise, with bodies being discovered under rubbles or injured victims succumbing in hospitals.

Turkiye has been quick to acknowledge and appreciate the rapid Indian response in its moment of crisis. Firat Sunel, Turkiye’s Ambassador to India in New Delhi, hailed India for its assistance and tweeted, “Dost is a common word in Turkish and Hindi. We have a Turkish proverb: Dost kara günde belli olur (a friend in need is a friend indeed). Thank you very much,” on February 6.

“Some nations have a robust system in place to fight out the natural calamities. They constantly train the upskill themselves for any such disaster – manmade or otherwise. India has been facing such calamities in its shaking hills, earthquakes and flooded hinterland every now and then. Learning from handling disasters first hand we are ready and alert. NDRF is a highly technical and professionally managed force that can reach out to any part of the world at a short notice. India’s goodwill mission Dost is one such initiative, that pierces through flimsy borders, political rivalry, disparate opinions, predefined diplomatic notions. It proved once again that the world can depend upon a friend in need, when disaster falls,” S K Sharma, a former Wing Commander, tells Media India Group.

“This also proves how professional are, our Defence services – which got airborne at the first call and landed with the disaster management experts and rescue teams 5,000 km away. Ours was the first contingent to land with the medical and other technical help, despite Pakistan’s refusal to give us the right of way to overfly it’s airspace. We went the longer way, yet we were the first country to land our disaster management teams at Turkiye,” he adds.

India’s response global crises

India has been a regular contributor the UN peace keeping missions in the several parts of the world. It has also extended its help and support to world on numerous occasions.

“Operation Dost is a praiseworthy step that India has taken. However, this is not the first time India has offered assistance to a country in crisis, as it has always done whenever there was a need in the world. Indian culture has been known for its adherence to the principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam or (the world is one family),’’ Vikas Yadav, a former Commander of Indian Navy who participated in rescue operations in Iraq in 2014, tells Media India Group.

After the massive tsunami that had hit Asia in December 2004, India was one of the first countries to reach out to other countries, even as it was itself dealing with disaster on its shores. Then, the Indian government had launched ‘Operation Castor’ and ‘Operation Rainbow’ in the Maldives and Sri Lanka respectively to extend immediate assistance. India’s assistance has not been limited to countries in its vicinity. In September 2005, India had sent in 25 tonnes of relief supplies to Hurricane Katrina victims at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas, USA. In 2008, India was among the first countries to send aid to Myanmar when cyclone Nargis hit the country.

In 2011, when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc in Japan, India sent 46 members of the National Disaster Response Force to search and rescue in Onagawa, Japan. In 2015, when another massive earthquake hit Nepal, India was among the first countries to extend support and rescue teams.

Besides, these India has also mounted several other rescue operations in several parts of the world.

A hope for revival

The warmth of Indian assistance and the acknowledgement by Turkiye could also seep into the two countries’ bilateral ties that have been a bit cold for a while. India’s relationship with Turkey predates its independence in 1947. In 1919, Indian Muslim leaders led the Khilafat movement in the subcontinent against the British decision to dismember Turkiye following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in World War 1. Over the years, bilateral trade and cultural ties have blossomed and over the past decade, India has also emerged as one of the most important source markets for the flourishing tourism industry in Turkiye.

However, over the past few years, the political relations have been under a cold snap, mainly over Turkiye’s support for Pakistan on multiple occasions.

In 2019, in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised concern over the long-standing dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Seeing this as a provocation, since India believes the Kashmir issue is a bilateral dispute and has no place at any multilateral forum, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held meetings with the leaders of Armenia, Cyprus, and Greece, three countries with which Turkiye has territorial disputes. Further, Modi was scheduled to visit Turkiye and Saudi Arabia in October 2019. However, he cancelled his visit to Turkey and opted to visit only Saudi Arabia.

But now, there may be a possibility of rapproachment between the two countries. While Turkiye has expressed its desire to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), whose current President is India and which will host the next summit in September this year.

Amidst all these India’s decision to come forward in the need of hour could change the entire perspective.

“In the field of International relations, real politik, it is worth considering the multi-dimensional approach taken by mature government and society, smart diplomacy always creates space for retracting as per one’s convenience. When a government is hostile towards the other, one area to explore is to have positive image and to be in the good books of the common masses, this almost always works in democracies. This could be another advantage of a democratic system of government, like thermodynamics, the concept of internal energy works in the international arena too. During the recent tragedy of the earthquake, the ongoing outreach of India and softening of Turkiye can also be seen through the prism of established political relations,” Vivek K Singh, a political observer and thinker from Bihar, tells Media India Group.



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