| A Pakistani Ranger and a policeman stand guard in front of the Samjhauta Express at Wagah station on Thursday. (AFP)
Attari, Jan. 15: India and Pakistan reopened their rail link today after a two-year hiatus, the most dramatic sign of rapprochement between the neighbours since ground-breaking talks between their leaders this month.
The Samjhauta Express, freshly painted in green and cream, chugged into Attari station, a kilometre from the Wagah border, around 12.50 pm to a restrained welcome.
The emotions were spent earlier — some shed tears of joy and others waiting on the platform laughed — on hearing that the train had finally crossed the zero line after being detained for nearly an hour by Indian authorities.
Security was tight on both sides of the border. Dozens of soldiers stood guard and sniffer dogs and X-ray machines were used to check passengers.
The train service resumed 10 days after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf agreed to resume peace talks.
Pakistan foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri greeted the resumption with a word of caution.
“The peace train has taken off. We have to determine the direction and speed. I hope it does not turn out to be a legendary passenger train which gets you nowhere,” he said.
Introduced in 1975, the Samjhauta Express used to ply daily between Amritsar and Lahore. But attacks in Lahore after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 prompted India to curtail the service to Mondays and Thursdays.
The driver of the locomotive, wearing a garland of red roses, waved from his cab as the train crossed the border. In the coaches behind him, waving passengers hung out of the doors while others peeked out from behind windows.
“Yeh mohabbat ki gaadi hai. Mujhe aaj jitni khushi hai woh pehle kabhi nahin hui. Ise chalte rahna chahiye. Yeh do mulkon ko nahin, do dilon ko jodti hai,” said Allah Ditta, the driver.
The train, flagged off by the Pakistan Railways chairman, was received at Attari by customs and police officials. No district official was present “as ordered by the Centre”.
At the station, passengers changed trains for onward travel into India, while, on its return journey, the train picked up travellers heading to Pakistan.
For Rashida Begum from Lahore, the visit was a return to her roots in Saharanpur. The joy of receiving a visa to visit her home for the first time since her marriage 30 years ago was tempered by the death of her parents in the meantime.
“Tees saal ke baad aaye hoon. Shaadi ke baad kisise na mil saki. Ab aayee hoon phir bhi sabse na mil sakoongi,” she wept.
Travelling with Rashida were only 70 others, an indication of continuing visa restrictions. Among the passengers were three Pakistan National Assembly members and a hockey team from a Lahore club en route to Chhattisgarh for a tournament.
Ramesh Lal Motwani, a Hindu legislator from the Pakistan People’s Party, said he had come for peace.
“Neither I nor my forefathers have ever come to India. I will visit Hardwar and Ajmer Sharif,” he said.
Ali Mohammad of Sopore was waiting eagerly to board the train for a reunion with his brother, whom he has not been able to visit since Partition. “Dono mulkon ko traasdi samajhni chahiye (The countries should understand this human tragedy),” he said wiping tears.
When the train left Attari for its return journey to Lahore at 2.15 pm with an elated Ali Mohammad and 300 others, Rashida had stopped sobbing. Clutching a faded photograph of the parents she had last seen three decades ago, she was waiting for a Delhi train to take her to her “hometown”, Saharanpur.