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Samjhauta resumes journey today
Varinder Walia & Ashok Sethi

Attari, January 14
When the Samjhauta Express chugs off after a gap of two years tomorrow it will also carry goods worth more than Rs 30 lakh, including herbs, stationery, books and vegetable seeds, across the border.

The revival of old trade ties was expected to give impetus to the economic prosperity of the two countries. Many passengers have already reached the city to board the train which will start its journey tomorrow.

The special Delhi-Attari train, carrying Pakistan-bound passengers, will arrive here at 4.40 am tomorrow. Many of these passengers could not meet their relatives across the Border due to the snapping of rail, road and air links with Pakistan after an attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001. The train came to a halt on January 1, 2002. Many cross-border marriages could not be solemnised due to the snapping rail link leaving a number of Indians and Pakistanis in the lurch. A number of people living in UP, Bihar and other states had been eagerly awaiting the resumption of the Samjhauta Express.

A bilateral agreement to run the Samjhauta Express was reached between the rail authorities of India and Pakistan in 1976 and the tri-weekly service was started between Lahore and Amritsar. The train was cancelled for a short while in 1992 after the Babri Masjid demolition. The service resumed after a fortnight on bi-weekly basis.

Mr Rajesh Setia, General Secretary of the Amritsar Chamber of Commerce, said traders had been flooded with enquiries from their Pakistani counterparts for supplying fresh vegetables. They were expected to finalise large business deals within next one week as the goods train might also be resumed shortly. “There is a lot of enthusiasm among local exporters as the current annual volume of import-export from Amritsar, which is pegged at Rs 600 crore, is expected to witness a substantial increase in the coming months,” he said.

Despite a thaw in relations between the two countries, the customs, immigration and intelligence authorities are not going to lower vigil. They will resort to frisking of passengers and checking of baggage at the Attari railway station. The Chief Commissioners (Customs), Mr V.P. Singh and Mr S.S. Bedi, conducted an inspection in this regard today.


Resumption of Indo-Pak rail links



India, Pak to expand mission strengths
Rajeev Sharma

New Delhi, January 14
While the Government of India is not very excited about Pakistan’s proposal of importing diesel from India till it happens, the two countries today decided to increase the strength of their respective missions in each other’s country to 75 and lift the restrictions on the movement of mission officials.

However, there has been little movement from Pakistan with regard to India’s confidence building measures (CBMs) announced on the New Year Eve: holding technical-level talks on the Munabao (Rajasthan)-Khokrapar (Sindh) bus link on January 12 and the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus link on January 19.

“We have been informed that the two CBMs — increasing the mission strength from 55 to 75 and the removal of restriction on the movement of mission officials — are acceptable, and these will now be implemented,” Foreign Office spokesman Navtej Sarna said at his briefing today.

The two proposals were made by India on December 31, four days before the SAARC Summit in Islamabad. India and Pakistan had a strength of 110 in their respective missions in Islamabad and New Delhi before the terrorist attack on Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13, 2001. It was reduced to 47 after the Parliament House attack. Three months back, the two countries decided to increase by eight to 55 the strengths of their respective missions.

About Pakistan’s response to India’s proposals for bilateral technical-level talks on January 12 for the Munabao-Khokrapar bus link and on January 19 for the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad link, the spokesman said, “One of the dates has already passed (January 12), so obviously that has not worked out. They will come back to us with new dates for holding the technical talks.”

To a question on when the composite dialogue would begin, he referred to the recent reported statement of External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha that modalities in this regard would be worked out.

Pakistan has been insisting for quite sometime that the strength of the two missions be restored to the pre-Parliament House attack days, saying that it was unable to cope with the rush of visa seekers after the resumption of the Delhi-Lahore bus service and the restoration of bilateral air links.

On Pakistani officials’ oft-repeated statements that Islamabad was keen to import diesel from India, the considered opinion of the Government of India is understood to be that it would cross the bridge when it comes to it.

Pakistan’s Petroleum and Natural Resources Secretary M. Abdullah Yusuf, who met his Indian counterpart Petroleum Secretary B. K. Chaturvedi here today, said his government planned to strike off diesel from the list of products banned for import from India.


Bahrain hails Indo-Pak peace progress
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 14
Bahrain today welcomed the Indo-Pakistan dialogue initiated by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the normalisation of relations between the two countries, saying that the disputes between the two South Asian neighbours could only be resolved through a bilateral process.

The joint statement, issued by India and Bahrain at the end of the four-day official visit of Bahrain premier Shaikh Khalifa Bin Salman Al-Khalifa to this country, said the Gulf state welcomed the progress, aimed at fostering friendship and good neighbourly relations achieved during Mr Vajpayee’s visit to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit.

The Bahraini premier held extensive and wide-ranging talks with Mr Vajpayee yesterday, followed by the signing of five agreements between the two countries, including an extradition treaty.

The joint statement said the two countries called for the early establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with relevant UN Security Council Resolutions so as to end the Israeli occupation of Arab territories.

India and Bahrain hoped the sovereignty of Iraq would be transferred to the people of the Arab country and stressed the need for the international community to support Afghanistan in its efforts to achieve its long-term developmental needs.

The two countries shared the desire for a comprehensive reform of the UN system to make it more representative and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the developing countries.

Condemning terrorism, India and Bahrain reaffirmed their conviction that “terrorism knows no religion or geographical boundaries and no cause or reason can justify” the menace.


Cong asks PM to clarify US role in talks with Pak
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 14
The Congress today asked the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to clear the air of doubt on the US role in the historic talks with the Pakistan President, Gen Pervez Musharraf, during the SAARC summit.

“Did the government get pushed to the negotiating table with Pakistan? Just what did the Vajpayee government do for two days with the Bush administration,” asked the party spokesman, Dr Abhishek Singhvi.

The party noted with concern US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertion that the Bush administration played a crucial role in bringing the Vajpayee government to the negotiating table with Pakistan.

Dr Singhvi said the party called upon the Prime Minister to explain to the nation Mr Powell’s claim to credit for the emerging detente with Pakistan.


Plundered village sees ray of hope
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Mehdipur (Indo-Pak border), January 14
No tree of this border village is more than four decades old as Pakistani nationals had plundered it, including its flora and fauna, when it was captured by the Pakistan army during the Indo-Pak war of 1965.

The village is called “Sri Lanka” of the border belt as more than 3 km neck of its land is surrounded on three sides by Pakistan’s territory. It is connected with India through a temporary bridge made of wooden plates and which is in a poor condition. Though the Indian Army had advanced towards the Pakistani side, they (Army officials) did not allow the residents of this area to ransack the Pakistani villages. The villagers bore the brunt of the Indo-Pak war in 1971 too, as it was got vacated by the Army. The memorial, mentioning the names of about 40 Army personnel, stands testimony to the colossal damage done to men and material here during the war. “We are displaced at the slightest problem at the border”, said Mr Darshan Singh, a resident of the village. Whenever there is tension between the two neighbouring nations, the villagers are directed to move to safer places.

The recent thaw in the region and improvement of bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have brought a lot of cheer on the faces of its residents. Mr Kabul Singh, a resident of the village, hoped that peace would help transform the entire border belt.

The state government and district administration pay scant attention towards the overall development of the border belt. It (development) could be possible if there is permanent peace in the region. “You name any problem, the border belt will have it”, stated a resident.

The condition of dispensaries, schools and other infrastructure of different government departments is worse. Government employees hardly visit the border villages. The government school of the village is also in a poor condition as teachers remain absent most of the time, allege villagers. Mr Bohar Singh, an old man, said no bus comes to the village and they (the villagers) have to depend on the illegal ‘Peter rehras’ (indigenous vehicles) which had been banned by the Punjab and Haryana High Court. He alleged that since the Indo-Pak war of 1971, a pucca bridge connecting the village could not be constructed despite the tall claims of the leaders of various political parties.

The roads leading to various border villages are full of pot-holes.

The condition of other villages like Machhike, Mastgarh, Khemkaran and Sangatpura which are close to the zero line is no different from Mehdipur. The residents of these villages also face a similar situation whenever relations between India and Pakistan get strained.

Mr Darshan Singh, a resident of Machhike, said the farmers are not getting sufficient irrigation water at the tail-ends of the canals though the area belongs to Irrigation Minister Gurchet Singh Bhullar. He, however, said both India and Pakistan could gain much in case relations get normalised forever. He said farmers of both countries could gain much out of the improved relations.

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