Relief material and critical life-saving equipment being loaded in the Indian Air Force (IAF) C-17 Globe Master aircraft prior to leaving for earthquake-hit Turkey, at Hindon Airbase, in Ghaziabad Image Credit: ANI

Did you know the meaning of the Turkish axiom “Dost kara gunde belli olur”? I must confess I did not either until I read the English version tweeted by Firat Sunel, the Turkish ambassador in Delhi, who explained that it was the Turkish equivalent of the adage “A friend in need is a friend indeed”.

The crucial word here is “dost” which simply means a “friend” — it is commonly used in both Hindi and Turkish.

India’s “Dost Operation” to rush the urgently-needed relief and humanitarian aid to the Turkish population devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 8 — a second earthquake of 6.8 magnitude followed a few days later — has been well appreciated in Istanbul.

New Delhi’s spontaneous decision to launch the “dost diplomacy”, as it is hailed now, made waves not just in Turkey and Syria — the latter also received assistance under the “dost operation”.

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India dispatched search and rescue teams of the National Disaster Response Force (MDRF), teams of medical experts and relief and medical supplies to Turkey and Syria and also helped pull out those lying under the fallen debris of buildings destroyed by the earthquake.

The Indian army which has considerable experience in rescuing people caught or injured in calamities that have struck parts of India in the past, has a rescue division which goes into quick action when it receives its orders.

Supporting Turkey’s rescue efforts

India also dispatched a mobile hospital supported by specialised search and rescue teams and other personnel on board its military transport aircraft to support Turkey’s rescue efforts.

It also sent special equipment and other relief material, trained dog squads, vehicles and other supplies. A 30 bed self-sustained field hospital operated by the Indian army was set up to treat the victims. .

India seems to be confident that the Turkish people are more open and sympathetic to India’s friendship overtures. The Turkish population has responded sympathetically to India’s gesture to help the earthquake victims, as evident in the comments made by readers in Turkish media.

Turkish ambassador Firat Sunel himself echoed this sentiment in New Delhi when he spoke about India being a “dost”. It must be recalled that Turkey had also sent medical supplies to India in 2021 when Covid struck mercilessly

The “dost brigade” which complements India’s diplomatic endeavours, could be deployed in other regions hit by calamities.

Besides mitigating the suffering in those places, humanitarian assistance to the unfortunate people hit by natural disasters can generate goodwill among the people and also the governments of the countries affected, besides opening up doors for collaboration in other areas as well.

Winning “hearts and minds”

India must, however, learn to communicate directly with the people of the country affected. Indian diplomats need to work conscientiously to win “hearts and minds” of the common people in a foreign country. That is the key, the eternal mantra, that can greatly enhance India’s soft power and expand its sphere of influence.

Leaders come and go but it is the common man who spreads the good word to his fellow countrymen and creates a reservoir of goodwill which no amount of expensive publicity and advertisements can create in a foreign country.

India has also had opportunities to provide assistance to countries afflicted by natural catastrophes in its direct neighbourhood. The floods that destroyed much of Pakistan’s agricultural land could be seen as a missed opportunity to reach out to the people through proper messaging instead of waiting for a formal request for assistance.

India needs to invent and enhance channels of communication with its neighbours. Such messaging can also help India establish a friendship base, resting on a solid goodwill pedestal that can be built through exchanges with the people.

Overall Indian diplomacy needs to develop imaginative out-of-the-box ideas to reach out to the common people and not be constrained by the straitjacket of the highly restrictive protocol approach.

India’s “dost diplomacy”, which was effectively used in Turkey and Syria, has the potential of making India a super soft power.

Manik Mehta is a New York based journalist who writes extensively on foreign affairs/diplomacy, United Nations, US bilateral relations, global economics, trade and business.