May 8, 2021

Indian football: 30 years since Khalid Jamil’s took the last flight home to escape the Gulf War

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The former I-League winning Aizawl FC coach narrated his near traumatic experience of leaving Kuwait for India in 1990 amidst the infamous Gulf War…

Thirty summers ago, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had decided to attack Kuwait with the sole intention of acquiring the land of Kuwait as Iraq’s 19th province.

The seven months-long war had a lasting impact on both countries, a devastation which was irreparable for a very long time.

The tension between the two states began in July 1990, when Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing Petrol from Rumaila oil field in Southern Iraq. Iraq’s then supreme commander Saddam Hussein had reportedly demanded $2.4 billion as compensation which Kuwait denied.

Finally, Baghdad decided to go ahead and attack Kuwait during the wee hours on August 2, 1990, and captured the country. The sudden movement by the Iraqis had left the Kuwaitis stunned and completely disrupted the harmony in the country.

But it was not just the Kuwaitis who suffered but also several other foreign nationals who were residing in the country at that time. One such foreigner was former India international footballer and I-League winning coach Khalid Jamil.

Jamil, who was born in Kuwait and had spent 13 years in the country, was stranded along with his family during the initial period of the war.

The NorthEast United FC interim coach shared some of his spine chilling experiences of witnessing the Gulf War in person.

“The attack happened in August. We were on our summer break and I used to be at my cousin’s place most of the time. My grandfather used to serve the Royal family of Kuwait and he came to know about the attack a month prior. He used to ask us to leave the country as he knew about a possible attack from Iraq over Kuwait. But my father did not listen to him at that time.

“Everything had come to a standstill across the country. We were not allowed to leave our house. There were military forces everywhere on every street. It was a very awkward experience for me as I had never seen such a situation before,” Jamil told Goal.

The Indian Government at that time had made arrangements to airlift their citizens from Kuwait. Air India, the flag carrier airline of India, had helped to airlift more than 1 lakh Indians. The process had started by August 13, 1990, and it went on till October 20, 1990.

Jamil’s family had initially planned to stay back as his father was against the idea of leaving the country where he had an established garage business. It was only after pressure from the embassy, that they had decided to catch the last flight back to India.

“We were there for two months before the Indian embassy asked us to leave the country as the United States of America was set to join the war and it would take a serious turn. We took the last flight back to India. Initially, my father was sceptical but finally decided to leave the country.

“We did not get any direct flight from Kuwait to India so we had travelled to Jordan via Iraq by car. A lot of our belongings were confiscated at the international border. We even had to leave my dad’s car behind in Jordan,” said the I-League winning coach.

The experience was horrific and traumatic at times for a young Khalid Jamil who had never before seen such dreadful occurrence.

The former East Bengal coach also mentioned that after Iraq had conquered Kuwait, the country’s currency (Kuwaiti Dinar) was deemed invalid. He also informed that his family had provided refuge to a lot of his local friends who were wanted by the Iraqi army.

“Those were really tough times. There was no electricity most of the times and there was a scarcity of food and water. We had provided shelter to many of my Kuwaiti friends as the Iraqis were searching for the local people at that time. There were safety issues,” exclaimed Jamil.

While his parents and relatives had returned to Kuwait in March 1991, after the war had ended, Jamil stayed back in Mumbai to pursue his higher education.

“My parents returned after seven months in 1991 after the war had ended. I stayed back in Mumbai to complete my education. The situation in Kuwait was still bad when my parents returned. There was still no electricity as Iraq had burned most of the crude oil and petrol in the country.”

The situation in Kuwait has definitely improved in the last 30 years and the Jamil’s parents as well relatives are well settled there. He visits them once a year during off-seasons.

“My parents reside in Kuwait now. I have many relatives there as well. I visit them every year,” said the Highlanders’ boss.