What compelled the ISIS to give the 46 Indian nurses safe passage to freedom?
Two very senior government officials have given dna two separate reasons that did the trick. One takes the Saudi Arabia route, the other Damascus.
The first one said foreign minister Sushma Swaraj presented such an attractive deal to Saudi foreign minister Saud Al Faisal that he just couldn't say no: India's commitment to make available Indian expertise to set up a medical college-cum-state-of-the-art hospital complex in the region of Dammam where Saudi Arabia's oil wealth lies.
The senior government official said: "Swaraj flew to Saudi Arabia to assure the Saudis that India would leave no stone unturned to fulfill its commitment to Saudi Arabia. Thereafter, a high regional player in Saudi Arabia intervened and ISIS agreed to let off the nurses."
He said the government was wary of not falling into a Kandahar-like situation. That was of paramount importance.
The second senior government official said National Security Advisor AK Doval made the impossible possible. Just days before the nurses were taken to Mosul from Tikrit by the ISIS, he air-dashed to Damascus and used his Syrian contacts to get through to two former very senior generals in the now defunct Saddam Hussein army.
"These generals were convinced to intervene on behalf of India with the ISIS. Several Baathists are aligned with the ISIS and they spoke to higher ups in the militant outfit and secured a promise that the nurses would be released," said the second government official.
Incidentally, both the officials said that towards the end, ISIS was already saying that the nurses were not "hostage" — proof that word had reached them and they had taken the nurses to Mosul with the aim of releasing them.
Having said that, there are other theories doing the round, which includes the one that says that when "front door" and "back door" channels didn't work, India went in for some "trapdoor" coercive tactics.
There's the "character certificate" given to the ISIS militants by the nurses, that they were "good guys, saviours". "Some of them were even doctors, we're surprised," the nurses told reporters outside Kochi international airport on Saturday. "Never in our dreams did we think these armed men would be our saviours... On our eight-hour drive to Mosul, the kind of behaviour they displayed surprised all of us." The nurses said they realised soon that the armed men were representatives of the 'Government of Islamic State of Mosul'.
Coming out of the Gulf are other reasons for what clinched the nurses' release. For instance, ISIS' desire to be seen a responsible player in the region now that it had proclaimed itself government of a "country", the Islamic State. Two, India took advantage of the release of 32 Turkish drivers held captive by ISIS. MEA talked with counterparts in Turkey, Jordan and Syria. Finally, the spirit of the holy month of Ramazan when acts of benevolence are rewarded in heaven.