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'Apprehensive' Passengers Board Thar Express from Jodhpur after Pakistan Says Train Services Cancelled

While Pakistan's Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced in Islamabad this would be the last Jodhpur-Karachi train, Indian officials said this had not been communicated to them.


Updated:August 9, 2019, 10:58 PM IST
'Apprehensive' Passengers Board Thar Express from Jodhpur after Pakistan Says Train Services Cancelled
Image for representation. (Reuters)

Jodhpur: Pakistan-bound passengers boarded the Thar Express here on Friday night amid apprehension there could be a last-minute suspension of the cross-border train service.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan's Railway Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced in Islamabad this would be the last Jodhpur-Karachi train. But Indian officials said this had not been communicated to them.

As the passengers got aboard the train at Jodhpur's Bhagat ki Kothi station, there were concerns the journey could even end at Munabao in Rajasthan's Barmer district, the border station it was scheduled to reach at 7 am the next day.

The train has been running between Jodhpur and Pakistan's Karachi every Friday night since services resumed on February 18, 2006 after a 41-year suspension.

Though there was no official word to North Western Railway's Jodhpur division on any cancellation, uncertainty loomed during the day.

Pakistan announced the suspension of the Thar Express and the Samjhauta Express following its decision to downgrade bilateral ties after India revoked the special status to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370.

"We have not received any communication or information from any side till now regarding the Thar Express. As per the current information, it will depart as scheduled today," said Jodhpur division spokesperson Gopal Sharma.

At the station, 51-year-old Roshan Bibi, who acquired Indian citizenship about three months ago, waited to begin the journey that would allow her to see her sick daughter Sana Yasser. "I am not sure now whether I would be able to see her or not," she said. Her married daughter is in Karachi.

Kaneeza Bi from Indore worried whether the gifts she had bought for her niece would go waste. "I spent a week in Delhi to get the visa, purchased the gifts for my niece's wedding. I was very happy till yesterday. But today I am not sure whether I would be able to attend the wedding of my niece or not," she said.

Boarding for the 143 Pakistan-bound passengers began at 9 pm, about four hours before the train's scheduled departure from Jodhpur.

On Thursday, Pakistan's Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said that the Samjhauta Express has been suspended. On Friday, he made a similar announcement on the train across the Rajasthan border. But Indian Railways officials said they had no information on it from the neighbouring country on it.

The Samjhauta Express was held up at Wagah on Thursday for some time by Pakistan authorities, citing security concerns. An Indian locomotive then brought the train to its side of the border.

Since its resumption in 2006, the Thar Express has been popular with people visiting families across the Rajasthan border, and for Pakistani Hindus who plan to migrate to India. According to one estimate, over four lakh passengers have taken the train in the past 13 years.

Though the Samjhauta Express was briefly suspended after the Indian Air Force struck a terror base in Pakistan's Balakot in February, the Thar Express continued unaffected.

Hindu Singh Sodha, president of the Seemant Lok Sangthan, said it would be unfortunate if the train falls victim to the recent turn of events. The train has been an important medium of transportation for the people from the border areas of both nations for maintaining their relations since Partition, he said.

Pakistan's decision to suspend the services of the two trains came after it expelled Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria on Wednesday, downgrading diplomatic ties over what it called New Delhi's "unilateral and illegal" move to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

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