Yaseen A. Abbas, president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, has been active in securing the safety of thousands of foreigners in Islamic State-held areas of Iraq since November 2013. Having worked in Iraq during the post-Saddam Hussein period, Yaseen is one of the foremost experts on relief and rehabilitation of people affected by conflicts and wars. He helped secure the safe return of Indian nurses last year and is now playing a key role in saving the 39 Indians captured by Islamic State militants. Excerpts from an interview.
What has been the extent of involvement of Red Crescent Society in the case of the 39 Indians captured by Islamic State?
We have been active in cases of disappearances and abductions in Islamic State-occupied parts of Iraq and we took deep interest in the case of Indians who were abducted by Islamic State or those who were surrounded by Islamic State forces. We were approached by the Indian government first and we tried to help them.
What report do you have on the Indian workers?
We have not heard any fresh news from the Indian men for the past six months. We are curious to find out about what has happened to them. This is a large number of men who were kidnapped and they are completely innocent. I feel very strongly that we should find them out, if possible alive.
*There is some pessimism in India about them being alive, considering that one of the abducted men managed to escape and is reportedly now in the custody of government of India. *
We are aware of that, too, as the man who had escaped from Mosul was also in touch with us initially. But we do not know where he has vanished. It is very important for us to talk to that man [Harjit Masin].
Do you think Islamic State would be holding Indians captive for almost a year, as keeping 39 adult men alive demands resources, food and prison.
Islamic State has the resources that they can use to keep hostages in control for long. They have done the same with the Lebanese, Iranians, Americans and Turks. Also, they deliver messages through mass-murder. Keeping prisoners alive does not cost much beyond bread, water and shed.
You were consulted by India initially. Why did the Indian government stop consulting you?
We are here to help anyone if that is within our means and if both sides respect our autonomy. Indian captives are not like the Japanese and the Americans. They are poor workers and Islamic State is also aware of it. I do not know why the Indian government stopped contacting us. India had stationed a diplomat [Satish Reddy] in Iraq and he used to consult me often but now he has stopped calling. We do not know if they have opened another channel for communication.
*Do you think India should negotiate with Islamic State? *
Yes. India should negotiate with Islamic State to find out the condition in which the 39 men are kept in Mosul. Other countries have done the same for their citizens because life is precious. Islamic State may not respect human lives but we in this world respect life and India should not let Islamic State maintain silence on the issue.
Do you think a violent organisation like Islamic State is interested in dialogue?
There is no harm in trying to have a dialogue with a group even if dialogue is not part of the group's method. That apart, I am sure Islamic State will talk if someone were to contact them.
Will you help India in other conflict zones in West Asia?
We are part of the international relief organisations and we can help whenever India needs us.