Security threats: Samjhauta Express called back from Wagah

Published: October 9, 2015
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Passengers disembark from the train after it was called back to Lahore. PHOTO: ZAHOORUL HAQ/EXPRESS

Passengers disembark from the train after it was called back to Lahore. PHOTO: ZAHOORUL HAQ/EXPRESS

LAHORE: 

Authorities in Pakistan ordered the Delhi-bound Samjhauta Express to return to Lahore railway station from the Wagah border on Thursday after Indian rail officials raised fears over possible security risks in the wake of widespread farmers’ protests.

The train, which runs twice a week between Lahore and Delhi, was carrying 130 Pakistani and 80 Indian passengers.

Samjhauta Express returned after officials realised the potential risk for Pakistani passengers travelling to India.

“The Indian railway authorities had requested their Pakistani counterparts to cancel the train, owing to security threats arising out of widespread protests by Indian farmers,” the Pakistan Railways spokesperson told The Express Tribune.

Farmers in Indian Punjab are protesting against the policies of the state government over inadequate compensation for the losses to their crops this year. The protests have forced the suspension of all rail traffic in the state in the past two days.

The railways spokesperson said early morning, Indian authorities sent Pakistan Railways a message requesting them to halt Thursday’s operations. “Initially, they told us they might be able to receive only those passengers who were carrying Indian passports at Attari,” he said, explaining that Pakistani passport holders had to be left behind in Lahore.

However, when the Delhi-bound train failed to reach its destination in Attari, the train operation was suspended. Officials said a total of 210 passengers were scheduled to cross the border.

Samjhauta Express departs for Attari from Lahore railway station twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays. The train operations have been divided by the authorities of both countries in a unique fashion. For six months, Pakistan Railways runs the train from Lahore to Attari station, from where the Indian Railways takes passengers to Dehli. For the next six months, the Indian Railways runs the train service from Delhi to Lahore and then back to Delhi.

Local authorities will now have to issue certificates to allow Indian nationals, whose visas to Pakistan might have expired, to extend their stay in the country till the train operations restart. They will have to be adjusted in Lahore until the next train departs for Attari.

Foreign Office spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said Pakistan was looking into the affair.

In February 2007, suspected Hindu extremists had bombed the Samjhauta Express, killing 68 people with 42 Pakistanis among them. Earlier this year, Islamabad had protested Indian’s recent decision not to oppose the bail for the prime accused in the case.

Around 200 passengers travel to and from India on board the Samjhauta Express but the number increases significantly when Indian Sikh pilgrims use the service to visit their holy sites in Pakistan.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2015.

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