[By Mayank Austen Soofi; Picture by Mustafa Quraishi]
Around 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, died in a bomb blast at Samjhuata Express while it was running at 90 kilometers per hour at the midnight of February 19. The non-stop train was on its way from the Indian capital Delhi to the border post at Attari. There the passengers were to board a second train, which would have taken them to Lahore. The cross-border rail service is considered as one of the few symbols of progress in the peace talks between the two nations.
The dead included 26 men, 14 women, and 13 children. 15 bodies were charred beyond physical recognition. Victims ranged from places as varied as Multan and Karachi. A shopkeeper from Faisalabad lost five children.
Both the nations have made the right noises. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared his country's ''abhorrence for this heinous terrorist act." While Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri called the bombing a ''terrible act of terrorism'' and said ''the peace process must go on with greater vigor and greater determination.''
The two bogies that caught fire after the blasts were unreserved and over-crowded with poor people. Since it is a tendency in both the nations to keep the poor at a distance, the compartments were not linked to the rest of the inter-connected train. On hindsight, many lives could have been saved if this were not so. Besides, the Indian security measures included locking this special train from outside. (The trains are usually locked from inside) No one could get in or get out. The burning passengers had no escape.
Railway Minister Shaikh Rashid rightly urged Indian authorities to stop the practice of ‘caging’ the train’s passengers in barred bogies.
Shaken by the tragedy, India has responded with responsibility. The country's High Commission opened a special visa camp at Lahore's Grand Hotel to facilitate immediate travel by relatives of those killed or injured in the blast.
This is surprising. What if "Pakistani Jehadis" get a few of these quickie visas to bomb the great boom-towns of Bombay and Bangalore? If the travel formalities are suspended on an emotional impulse, won't India stand vulnerable to the "evil" designs of the ISI?
However, the stark human face of the tragedy appears to have moved New Delhi to make security compromises. “Incidents like these that are very heart-rending, and which affect both countries and both peoples, can only add to the urgency of the need for cooperation," Mr.Kasuri observed.
Can this temporary relaxation, occasioned by the tragedy, be made permanent please?
No one denies that Pakistan has terrorists within its borders but is a strict visa regime a solution? Further, is it wise to seal Pakistan-bound trains from outside, as if all the passengers are Al-Qaeda operatives? Such measures create insurmountable, sometimes fatal, difficulties for the travelers. It is regrettable that a deadly bomb attack had to expose their travails.
Pakistan Paindabad mourns the dead and demands more respect for the traveling citizens.