India-Pakistan Samjhota Express Blast: 60+ Dead

Posted on February 19, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Disasters, Foreign Relations, Law & Justice
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Adil Najam

In a tragic development – and what is clearly the most serious threat to recent headways in the India-Pakistan peace process – a train bound from India to Pakistan (Samjhota Express) caught fire, reportedly because of two crude home-made bombs which exploded. Over 60 people are reported dead, most of them Pakistanis returning home, but the death toll also includes many Indians, including some Indian officials.

Another casualty could be the recently revived India-Pakistan peace process. The dastardly incident comes days before Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri was to arrive in New Delhi to move the peace process forward. Indian Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav points out that “the aim is… to put hurdles into the path of the peace process that has started between the two neighbouring countries — India and Pakistan.” (Watch video report here).

Here are some details, according to the BBC:

At least 64 people have been killed in a series of explosions and a fire on a Pakistan-bound train in the northern Indian state of Haryana, officials say. Passengers reported hearing two blasts as the train passed near Panipat, about 80km (50 miles) north of Delhi. The train – the Samjhauta Express – was part of a service taking passengers from Delhi to Lahore in Pakistan. A spokesman for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the explosions were probably an “act of terror”. A number of other passengers were injured, and officials say the death toll may rise. The Samjhauta Express is one of two train services connecting India and Pakistan. After a two-year gap, it was reopened in 2004 as part of the peace process between the two countries.

Bloomberg adds the following information:

The blasts, which occurred after 11 p.m. last evening, were caused by crude explosives and struck two coaches of the train, India’s Railways Minister Lalu Prasad told reporters today in a televised interview in New Delhi. Pakistan condemned the blasts, saying India must conduct a thorough investigation into the act of terrorism. The train service between Indian and Pakistan is used by people who can’t afford air travel between the nuclear-armed neighbors that fought three wars since independence from British rule in 1947 and started talks to improve relations in 2003. The divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir is at the center of a dispute between the two countries that claim the region in full….

“Preliminary investigations show most of the victims are Pakistanis,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in a phone interview from capital Islamabad today. “We expect India to conduct a thorough inquiry to find out the reasons behind this act.” The Pakistan High Commission in the Indian capital is being informed about possible casualties, zonal railways official B.N. Mathur said. A railway guard manning a signal cabin on the route between Delhi and Attari heard two explosions when the train crossed the station near Panipat, a refinery town, Mathur told reporters from the blast site….

India had the responsibility of providing security to the train in its part of the country, Aslam said, refusing to comment on the impact of the blasts on peace talks between the two countries. “We don’t know the motive behind the blasts.”

Pakistan has recently seen a spate of bombings in its major cities, and even before this some in government were pointing towards a ‘foreign hand’ in these bombings. Both countries have long played this game of ‘blame the foreign hand’, including in the recent tragic train bombings in Mumbai. The impulse to do so at the first sign of trouble is a natural one in the sub-continent. Given the deep distrust that exists between the two, it may even be understandable. But irrespective of the short-term political gains such finger-pointing might gain, it is not a very useful way to deal with deep tensions. One certainly hopes that this will not slide to that level and if, indeed, the purpose of those who did this terrible act was to hurt the peace process, then both countries will work together to make sure that this does not happen.

It is a good sign that Pakistan has announced that the visit by the Pakistan Foreign Minister to India will not be canceled. The signals from the Pakistan Foreign Ministry are sober but reasonable. According to The News:

Pakistan Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri Monday condemned a train blast in India which killed at least 66 people as a “horrendous act of terrorism” and said most of the victims were Pakistanis. Kasuri said he had asked the Indian government to investigate the incident overnight on a Samjhota Express. “It is a horrendous act of terrorism,” Kasuri told reporters during a function at the foreign office. “I would like the Indian government to investigate this incident. We are waiting for the results of the investigation,” he said. The minister said he had instructed the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi to send staff to the site to help Pakistan nationals caught up in the blast.

The main leaders in India, including the Prime Minister and President, have also sent the right signals, including condolences to those who have died. The overtures from both sides are to focus on finding the terrorists who committed this atrocity. One hopes that their attentions will remain focussed on this purpose rather than succumbing to the impulse of scoring political points through the unwarranted politics of incrimination. Most of all, one hopes that neither country will allow the peace process to be derailed by this blast.

143 responses to “India-Pakistan Samjhota Express Blast: 60+ Dead”

  1. Imtiaz Hussain Abro says:

    This is very serious issue for indian Government.
    We like to peace, what is hindu, muslim, christian etc.
    we are human.
    Imtiaz Hussain Abro

  2. Adeel Siddiqui says:

    When i went close to samjhota express i seen the doors looked where most casualties reported……and the Iron rods were thicker then the other carraiges……And till now India havn’t penalized any one nor there have reports about any arrests.

  3. This was a total collapse on India & Pakistan security.

    Pakistan Spectator

  4. Sridhar says:

    The latest news on the investigation… 570100.htm

    [quote] Hunt for suspect hits dead-end

    Praveen Swami

    Pakistani authorities fail to locate Lahore resident Sattar Khan

    # Address provided by him to secure visa was fictitious
    # His whereabouts and links to jehadi groups still unknown

    NEW DELHI: Pakistani investigators have failed to locate Lahore resident Sattar Khan, one of the two suspects wanted for the firebombing of the Samjhauta Express.

    Pakistani intelligence officials, highly placed official sources said, questioned Mr. Khan’s relatives in Lahore, but without apparent success. Although Pakistani authorities have determined that Mr. Khan’s passport was legitimate, no information has been made available on his possible links to jihadi organisations or his current whereabouts.

    Mr. Khan travelled to India on a legitimate visa in November 2006. An investigation was initiated as he failed to return home even after his visa expired.

    Delhi police officials then discovered that the address he provided to obtain the visa was fictitious, and they placed him on a terrorism watch-list.

    Rana Shaukat Ali, a department store owner from Faislabad in Pakistan, told the police that a photograph of Mr. Khan resembled one of the four men he saw getting off the train shortly before the incendiary devices exploded.

    Sixty-eight people, including five of Mr. Ali’s six children, were killed in the attack.

    Indore residents Huzaifa Halim Ali and Puran Singh Thakur, who ran the store from which the bombers purchased the cheap cloth-covered suitcases used to keep the incendiary devices, corroborated Mr. Ali’s identification, sources in the firebombing investigation said.

    A three-member Indian delegation, led by External Affairs Ministry Additional Secretary K.C. Singh, handed over a dossier on Mr. Khan to the Pakistan Foreign Office during a March 7 meeting of the Joint Mechanism on Terrorism, set up in the wake of last year’s serial bombings in Mumbai.

    Indian investigators believe Mr. Khan may have been linked to a Karachi-based terror network run by Shahid Bilal, a one-time resident of Hyderabad, who has allegedly commanded several major Lashkar-e-Taiba operations since 2004.

    Bilal, sources in the Andhra Pradesh police claim, has close connections with cadre of the Harkat ul-Jihad Islami (HuJI), a Bangladesh-based terrorist group, which has executed several major attacks in India. [/quote]

  5. Ghalib says:

    its sad!
    but one positive i will write without any bias being a pakistani that pakistan hasnt blamed india for the blasts.In mumbai blasts and train sabotage even the indian PM was direct in blaming pakistan!That doesnt gives a positive message across the border to people of both side one thinking they are enemies and the other thinking they want to name us!who ever did this is “barbaric” like the ones that did mumbai blasts!
    recently i saw the movie “Black Friday” and can feel sorry that it has become fashion to label muslimsand particularly pakistanis for any thing that happens in india.If u take muslim name in india the next query is Pakistan? its sad really sad that we arent curbing the problems the ignite these problems and just running the trains and putting people from both sides into fire!!!just to make some powers like USA happy that the arch rivals are on a path to friendship.Its just like not removing the Gallstones and treating the fever with antibiotics like samjhota express!
    Theres a need for both govts to educate their people that confrontation wont lead them anywhere and they have to live side by side if india want to be a “india booming” and pakistan to be “progressive” after treating the gallstone of Kashmir!we know the cause but no address to the issue!!
    My sympatheis to the families who lost the loved ones both muslims hindus!

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