Samjhauta Express Bombing: We Are Fine, Many Are Not

Samjhauta Express after Bombing

The flow of calls and emails has already begun in the wake of the bombing of the Samjhauta Express, the train which runs between Delhi and Lahore. Everyone should know that we are still stuck in Delhi, awaiting our visas, and will probably not be leaving for Lahore for a few more days. (I guess we have some reason to be thankful for the classic inefficiency of the Pakistan High Commission and Interior Ministry, where our visa applications have been moldering.) We appreciate the expressions of concern for our well-being.

So, it looks like we’ll be walking across the border rather than traveling by train.

The reactions to this heinous bombing among the Friends Without Borders travel squad has been nearly uniform. One of us said immediately, “This changes everything.” The rest of us agreed that it changed nothing, except perhaps how we would be traveling now that the train service has been disrupted.

One thing that might change are our dinner plans for tomorrow evening. We had been fortunate to be invited to a small dinner party for Kharshid Kasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, and Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian Minister of External Affairs , to discuss our latest project. We are hopeful that the meeting will still take place, but understand that both men have their hands full at the moment. The need is all-the-more urgent in the aftermath of the Samjhauta Express terror.

Windows open and windows close on peace initiatives, quite beyond the control of the would-be peace-makers. We were fortunate to commence Friends Without Borders as a joyful window was opening, last year’s tour of the Indian national cricket team in Pakistan. Now the project continues as windows may shut against the chill-air of horrific violence. Our project has demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of people in both countries yearn for a friendly, supportive, peaceful future, even as India and Pakistan pursue their separate destinies. And we will continue our work toward that hopeful vision, no matter the emotional climate.

I am appending the BBC report on the Samjhauta Express bombing, below:

Dozens dead in India train blasts

The fire engulfed two carriages on the Samjhauta Express
A fire sparked by explosions has swept through two carriages of a train bound from India to Pakistan, killing at least 65 people on board.
Passengers said they heard two blasts as the train passed near Panipat, about 80km (50 miles) north of Delhi.

The train – the Samjhauta Express -is part of a service taking passengers from Delhi to Lahore in Pakistan.

Pakistan demanded that India act to catch those responsible for what both governments said was a terrorist act.

The blasts happened a day before Pakistan’s Foreign Minister was due in Delhi for talks with Indian leaders.

The minister, Khurshid Kasuri, said the explosion was a “horrendous act of terrorism” but it would not change his plans to visit India from 20 to 23 February.

Innocent men and women had been killed, he said, a sentiment echoed by Indian Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav who told a news conference that the blast were aimed at undermining relations between the two countries.

“It is an effort to destabilise peace between India, Pakistan. Innocent people have been killed.”

Islamabad said most of the dead were Pakistanis and foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam demanded India investigate the incident immediately.

“We expect Indian authorities to punish the perpetrators,” she said, stressing that it was India’s responsibility to ensure proper security for the twice-weekly service which runs from the Indian capital to Lahore in Pakistan.

After a two-year gap, the service was restarted in 2004 as part of the peace process between the two countries.

‘Loud explosion’

A couple of small blasts took place in two carriages at about midnight (1830 GMT), as the train reached a station in the village of Deewana.

The train came to a standstill and a ball of fire then engulfed the two coaches.

The injured were pulled out of the burning carriages onto the trackside by fellow passengers, and local residents rushed to the tracks to help.

“I heard a loud explosion and then it was all smoke,” passenger Tara Chand was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

“Looking at the intensity of the smoke, many people must have suffocated to death before being charred.”

Security precautions on the train meant many doors were bolted shut and most windows had bars covering them which may have trapped some passengers inside.

The BBC’s Soutik Biswas, reporting from the scene, said the heat of the flames had peeled the blue paint off the coaches, and oil and burnt cinders covered the tracks.

He went into one of the carriages and saw boxes of food and spices that many of the passengers would have been taking as gifts to friends and relatives in Pakistan.

Shiv Ram, a police railway constable, was one of the first officials on the scene.

“In 30 years of service I haven’t seen anything like this,” he told our correspondent.

“The coaches were totally engulfed in flames. I brought out three charred women – I could only recognise them as women because they were wearing bangles”.

Police said they had recovered two suitcases filled with crude homemade explosives.

‘Anguish and grief’

The burnt-out carriages have been moved away from the scene of the fire to a railway siding a couple of kilometres away for forensic examination.

The train carried more than 500 passengers, a mix of Indians and Pakistanis – but most of the victims are believed to have been Pakistanis.

Most of the bodies were charred beyond recognition and the mortuary at the local hospital in Panipat is overflowing.

Mohammad Saif, who lives in Delhi, has been to the site and the hospital in search of his aunt and niece, who been visiting him from Pakistan.

“I saw them off at the Delhi railway station last night about 9pm. There was no security, no checking, nothing at the station. I’ve been looking for them, can’t trace them,” he told the BBC.

Also in search of news, anxious families rushed to the main railway station in Delhi where there was a handwritten list of some of the people known to have been injured.

The Indian High Commission in Islamabad said arrangements were being made to process visas immediately for Pakistanis who had relatives on the train and wished to go to India, Reuters reported.

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