IN a highly questionable move, the Samjhauta Express and Thar Express train services to India have been abruptly halted by the railways ministry after the Modi administration scrapped the constitutional article that had allowed autonomy to the people of India-held Kashmir. At the same time, the information ministry has decided to ban all cultural links with India, including the screening of films from across the border. Why punish the people? Pakistan’s move to downgrade diplomatic ties might make sense at such a time, but the Indian government will not be hurt by the clamp-down on cultural activities and exchanges, and train services. In fact, it will only embolden the administration in Delhi to increase its anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The ban on travel — announced by an impetuous railways minister instead of the foreign ministry — is particularly distressing, when we consider the divided families on both sides of the border, and the many Sikh pilgrims who want to visit holy sites on this side of the fence. It is a sure way of playing into the hands of the Modi government that has left no stone unturned to defame this country. As photographs of teary-eyed passengers boarding the last Samjhauta Express train in Lahore are circulated, one cannot help but feel sorry for the ordinary people caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately, the railways minister has said the ban will stay as long as he remains in charge of the ministry.
The Thar Express had made it quicker and more convenient for travellers from Sindh to visit the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, instead of travelling all the way from Punjab, to visit their families and religious sites at a fraction of the cost it takes by air. Now they don’t have that option. The Samjhauta Express had been suspended before, notably after the 2007 bombings. But train services were restored later. For the sake of the people, one hopes that the current suspensions will be of short duration.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2019