February 18, 2006

Pakistan, India resume train service after 40 years

By Aamir Ashraf

ZERO POINT, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan and India resumed
a train service across the Thar desert on Saturday, 40 years
after it was suspended following the second of the three wars
between the two South Asian rivals.

Sitting on camels, paramilitary troops patrolled the desert
as the train carrying around 250 passengers arrived at
Pakistan's southern border village of Khokhropar for its onward
journey to Munabao in India's Rajasthan state.

Many passengers burst into tears and shouted "Long Live
Pak-India friendship" as the Thar Express halted at Zero Point,
the last stop on the Pakistani side of the border.

Dancers wearing traditional dresses danced to the beat of
drums to greet the train, decorated with colorful buntings.

"I was 13 years old when I came here. Now I am going to my
home for the first time after 58 years," said Mohammad Ali
Azhar, whose parents migrated to Pakistan to escape bloodshed
that killed hundreds of thousands of people following partition
of the sub-continent in 1947.


Ladhi Singh Sodho, a Hindu Pakistani engineer, was making
his first visit to his in-laws since he and his wife married in

"We belong to this desert. This sand does not distinguish
between Hindu and Muslim. This is sand of my own people," he
said, his voice filled with emotion.

"Resumption of the Thar train and other such steps will
definitely promote love and friendship between the two

Up to 12,000 people bade farewell to the train when it
stopped at the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad on Friday
night on its way to Khokhropar.

The service between Khokhropar and Munabao was discontinued
during the 1965 India-Pakistan war over the disputed Himalayan
region of Kashmir.

The service will be operated using a Pakistani train for
the first six months and an Indian train for the subsequent six

It will be the second rail link established between the
nuclear-armed rivals since they launched a peace process two
years ago after they went to the brink of a fourth war.

A train service linking India's Punjab state with Pakistani
Punjab was restored in 2004.

Last month, the two countries launched a third cross-border
bus service.

While confidence-building measures undertaken by the two
countries have strengthened transport, cultural, sporting and
commercial links since starting the peace process, they have
made little progress on Kashmir, cause of two of their three
wars since 1947.

Pakistan accuses India of dragging its feet in resolving
the dispute while New Delhi says Islamabad is not doing enough
to rein in Islamist militants fighting its rule in the
Muslim-majority region.

Kashmir is divided between India, Pakistan and China. India
says the Himalayan region is an integral part of its territory
and is not interested in redrawing its borders, while Islamic
Pakistan wants to find a solution that includes all Kashmiris.