By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
DELHIâ€” Taking Indo-Pak relations to a new height, the two countries have not allowed Samjhauta Express train blasts to derail their peace process. The past week (midnight February 18 â€“ 19) was witness to blasts on Delhi-Attari Express (link train of Samjhauta Express), leading to fire in two of its 16 coaches, with 68 people (largely Pakistanis) being killed. The train caught fire at Deewana, near Panipat, about 100 kms from Delhi. By Monday morning, the two completely gutted coaches were detached and the rest of the train left for Attari via Wagah. The bi-weekly train runs non-stop from Delhi to Attari, from where passengers are shifted to the Samjhauta Express, which goes to Lahore after customs and immigration clearances.
Preliminary investigations indicate that it was a case of sabotage. â€œWe have found two suitcases, there were IEDs (Improvised Explosive Device) in them,â€ said V.N. Mathur, a senior railway official, who reached the spot from Delhi. The gateman near Deewana station informed him that he had heard two â€œdistinct explosions.â€ â€œFrom this evidence, we deduce that this was a clear case of sabotage,â€ Mathur said.
Forensic authorities confirmed that five explosive devices were recovered by police, three of which were â€œliveâ€ and were defused by the bomb disposal squad. â€œA number of explosive devices were found on the train and obviously these materials were used to try and set the train on fire. That is why two bogies caught fire. Fortunately, there were three devices that didnâ€™t explode and we found them and defused them. We have also seized their IED and electronic timers and are investigating them. Only after examining them will we be able to say what the modus operandi was, and why they didnâ€™t explode at the same time as the others did â€“ or whether the devices were to be operated remotely,â€ said J.S. Mehenwal, Director at the Haryana Forensic Laboratory.
With tragedy having struck just ahead of a meeting of the â€œrevivedâ€ Indo-Pak joint commission in the capital city, apprehensions were voiced whether the peace process would be derailed. Less than a year ago, following July 11-bombings in Mumbai, the then scheduled Indo-Pak talks were postponed as India suspected Pakistani elementsâ€™ involvement in those blasts. The reaction was different this time.
â€œWe would not allow this tragic event to affect our common quest for normalization of relations between India and Pakistan,â€ President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam asserted while addressing the joint session of the Indian Parliament (February 23). He also expressed â€œsincere condolencesâ€ for victims of train blasts.
Earlier, during a telephone conversation, the same evening (February 19), with his Pakistani counterpart Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh strongly condemned the â€œheinous terrorist actâ€ and â€œreaffirmedâ€ Indiaâ€™s commitment to ensure punishment for criminals. Pakistan condemned the attack and expressed hope that the Indian Government would conduct a thorough investigation into it and punish those responsible.
As scheduled, the fifth meeting of the Indo-Pak Joint Commission was held here (February 21). Its fourth meeting was held in October 2005. While addressing a joint press conference after the meeting, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid M. Kasuri strongly condemned the incident. â€œThere are no words strong enough to condemn this act of heinous crime. It has underlined the need for cooperation,â€ Kasuri said. â€œThe government of India will make every effort to bring to justice these perpetrators of this heinous act,â€ Mukherjee asserted.
While India and Pakistan pronounced their determination to fight terrorism, India ruled out joint (Indo-Pak) investigation into train-blasts. â€œAs per the law of land, the investigation has to be carried by India,â€ Mukherjee said. On this, Kasuri said: â€œThe Prime Minister of India spoke to the Prime Minister of Pakistan and assured him that the result of the investigation would be shared. The joint (anti-terror) mechanism is meeting in Islamabad on March 6 and I have no doubt that they will take cognizance of it.â€
Defeating apprehensions held about their nuclear diplomacy, India and Pakistan signed an agreement on â€œReducing the Risk from Accidents Relating to Nuclear Weapons.â€ It was signed by K.C. Singh (Additional Secretary, Indian Ministry of External Affairs) and Tariq Osman Hyder (Additional Secretary, Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in presence of the two foreign ministers. The agreement, labeled as a major confidence building measure, entered into force with immediate effect. The two sides also reviewed the progress of their dialogue process.
True, for Pakistani families directly affected by the tragedy, no amount of condolence or compensation can bring their loved ones back. If these innocent people were deliberately targeted to hinder the Indo-Pak peace process, the two governments and people have strongly signaled that it has not been derailed. Defeating terroristsâ€™ intentions, amid stepped up security arrangements, Samjhauta Express continued its journey to Indo-Pak border late on Wednesday night, with more than 600 passengers. Expressing that those responsible for train blasts would not achieve their goals, before boarding the train, an elderly Pakistani lady Ameena Bano said: â€œThey want to hurt improving relations between Pakistan and India, but they will not succeed.â€