AROUND 117 passengers coming to India from Pakistan aboard the Samjhauta Express were briefly stuck at the Wagah border Thursday, when Pakistani railway officials conveyed to their Indian counterparts that the train would not enter the country. An engine was then sent to bring the train back to Attari.
Pakistan announced that the train service had been suspended as part of downgrading of diplomatic ties with India in response to the scrapping of Article 370, which granted special status to Jammu & Kashmir. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan’s Railways Minister Rasheed Ahmed said that coaches of the Samjhauta Express will now be used for passengers travelling on the occasion of Eid. “Till I am railways minister, Samjhauta Express service will not operate,” a private news channel quoted him as saying.
“We had received a message from Pakistan railway officials that they won’t send their driver and engine. So we sent our men and engine to bring the train back. It is a rare for Pakistan to decide not to push the train into India. But we had to take care of the passengers,” said Arvind Kumar Gupta, station master at Attari railway station.
Two drivers and a guard were sent to Wagah on board an engine at 3 pm. They returned to Attari with the stranded passengers around 5 pm. Heavy security was deployed at the Attari station.
“The train has not been suspended. It will run. Pakistan authorities have raised some concerns with regards to security for crew and guard of the Samjhauta Express. We have told them the situation is normal on this side,” Northern Railway spokesperson Deepak Kumar said.
Hundreds of passengers from both sides of the border were also stuck for several hours waiting for security clearances to be completed following the disruption in the bi-weekly train service that connects Delhi and Lahore.
Around 60 passengers who were supposed to go to Pakistan on board the Samjhauta, were stuck at Attari railway station. Fifty of these passengers were Indian nationals and the remaining 10 were Pakistani nationals. Sources said that later, Indian officials also dropped them to Wagah.
The Samjhauta Express, named after the Hindi word for “agreement”, comprises six sleeper coaches and an AC 3-tier coach. The train service was started on July 22, 1976, under the Simla Agreement that settled the 1971 war between the two nations.
The Samjhauta Express from both Lahore and Delhi halt at Attari. At Attari, Delhi-bound passengers coming from Lahore get on to an Indian train, and Lahore-bound passengers board the Pakistani train that retraces its steps back to Wagah and then on to Lahore. In the Attari-Lahore run, the rakes change every six months — six months with Indian coaches and six months with Pakistani coaches.
Pakistani authorities had briefly suspended the train service on February 28 this year following tense bilateral ties in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed.
Apart from this incident, other activities between the two countries at the border continued normally. Sources said at least 20 trucks reached India via the Integrated Check Post Attari on Thursday. Ten of these trucks came from Afghanistan and another 10 from Pakistan carrying rock salt. However, traders at the ICP speculated how long this trade would continue. among traders for how long this trade would continue.
The trade at Wagah had reduced to a minimum after India had increased excise duty by 200 per cent after the Pulwama attack. Now, very few trucks pass through the ICP every day.
“Trade is already low. It wouldn’t impact much if it came to a standstill. But trade should flourish on both sides,” said a trader.
Meanwhile, the retreat ceremony was also held as usual Thursday evening by the Border Security Force and Pakistan rangers at Wagah.
(With PTI inputs)
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