Samjhauta Express an easy target, warns Ministry of Home Affairs

नयी दिल्ली New Delhi: Apprehending terror sabotage to the warming up of Indo-Pak relations, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has warned the railways that the Pakistan bound Samjhauta Express could be an easy target, while stating that there had been serious lapses in ensuring full-proof anti-sabotage measures in the train in the recent days.

The Immigration section of the foreigners division of the MHA in a letter to the railways has sought immediate remedial measures to ensure conduct of full-proof anti-sabotage measures in the Attari (Pakistan) bound Samjhauta Express, which, incidentally, was bombed in 2007. The internal note states that the Samjhauta Express being an international train is vulnerable to “any untoward incident if all the procedures as per the SP (standard operating procedure) are not adopted”. Sources in the MHA revealed that the note was issued after an internal assessment of the Samjhauta Express being a soft target and the realisation that a repeat of 2007 bombing of the international train could derail the initiatives of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to find ways to improve relations with Pakistan.

The MHA has brought to the notice of the railways that the Samjhauta Express, of late, is being brought to the platform much behind the schedule and, thus, giving little time for the anti-sabotage exercise. “As per the SOP and general practice, the train is usually placed at platform number one at around 4 pm, following which the rummaging of compartments is carried out by the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) and Dog Squad. The entire platform is sealed to prevent any unauthorised access,” the MHA noted, while stressing that of late time schedule is not being followed.

“It has been noticed that either the train is placed at the platform very late at around 8.10 pm or at times it’s placed in parts with a few coaches being placed at 9.30 pm. This leaves the BDS with very little time to check the train and conduct anti-sabotage measures,” the internal note stated. Sources in the MHA said that the railways has been asked to be extra careful in the light of the possibility of terror sabotage and take remedial actions immediately.

The Samjhauta Express operates between Delhi and Attari on Sunday and Wednesday.

About Samjhauta Express

The Samjhauta Express (Hindi: समझौता एक्सप्रेस, Urdu: سمجھوتا اکسپريس‎) commonly called the Friendship Express, is a twice-weekly train – Tuesdays and Fridays – that runs between Delhi and Attari in India and Lahore in Pakistan. The word samjhauta means “agreement”,”accord” and “compromise” in both Hindi and Urdu.

Until the reopening of the Thar Express, this was the only rail connection between the two countries. The train was started on July 22, 1976 following the Shimla Agreement and ran between Amritsar and Lahore, a distance of about 42 km. Following disturbances in Punjab in the late eighties, due to security reasons Indian Railways decided to terminate the service at Attari, where customs and immigration clearances take place. On April 14, 2000, in an agreement between Indian Railways and Pakistan Railways (PR), the distance was revised to cover just under three km.

It was a daily train when the service started, and changed to a bi-weekly schedule in 1994. Earlier the rakes were returned to the home country the same day but later in 2000 the rake remained overnight at that location.

Its termini are Lahore in Pakistan and Delhi in India. The border crossing takes place between Wagah in Pakistan and Attari in India. Originally, this was a through service with the same rake going all the way between the termini; later the Pakistani rake stopped at Attari at which point passengers had to change trains. The train service was set up with an agreement between Indian Railways (IR) and Pakistan Railways (PR) to alternately use an Indian and a Pakistani rake and locomotive for the train, six months at a time.

The train usually has between four and eight coaches. The rake supplied by Pakistan is usually hauled by an Alco DL-543 class ALU20 diesel loco (Lahore shed), with the entire train in the standard dark green livery of PR.

The train’s first break of service was when it was discontinued on January 1, 2002 in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. Service resumed on January 15, 2004. Service was also suspended following the 27 December 2007, assassination of Benazir Bhutto as a preventive measure to deny militants a “high-value target” that was of great symbolic importance to both India and Pakistan.

On 8 October 2012, police recovered about 100 KG of contraband heroin and more than 500 rounds of bullet ammunition at Wagah border on the train heading for Delhi.

2007 Bombing

In the early hours of February 19, 2007, sixty-eight people (mostly Pakistani civilians and a few Indian military guarding the train) were killed and scores more injured in a terrorist attack on this “Peace Train”. The attack occurred at Diwana station near the Indian city of Panipat, Haryana. Officials found evidence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and flammable material, including three un-detonated IEDs. The National Investigation Agency has stated that the blasts were masterminded by Aseemanand, a Hindu religious leader. Aseemanand born as Jatin Chatterjee in West Bengal, joined the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, inspired by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1978.

On July 1, 2009, the US Department of Treasury designated Arif Qasmani of the Lashkar-e Tayyiba as a person involved in terrorism, citing among other things his involvement in the Samjhauta Express bombing.

On December 30, 2010, India’s National Investigation Agency claimed that they had solid evidence that Aseemanand was the mastermind behind the blasts. He had roped in Sandeep Dange, an engineering graduate, and Ramji Kalsangra, an electrician, to build the improvised explosive devices used in the blasts. On January 8, 2011, Aseemanand allegedly confessed the bombing of Samjhauta express, who wanted to take revenge against Pakistan for their repeated attacks on Indian soldiers and Kargil war, a statement later found to be obtained under duress. Later the Hindu nationalist group RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) sent a legal notice to CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) accusing it of deliberately leaking Aseemanand’s confession in the media. RSS called the investigation maligning of organizations and individuals.

According to various local newspapers, NIA arrested Kamal Chauhan, who is deemed by the NIA as the main operative, in February 2012.