By Ashok Bhattacharjee and Khalid Qayum, BloomBerg
Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) — India's government said two bombs killed at least 65 people on a Pakistan-bound train, a service that symbolizes closer links between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
The attack late yesterday occurred less than 188 miles (300 kilometers) from the India-Pakistan border on two carriages of the Samjhota Express, Indian railways minister Lalu Prasad said today in New Delhi. Samjhota means concord in Hindi. Pakistan asked India to probe what it called an act of terrorism and said its foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri will go ahead with a four- day visit to India starting tomorrow to continue peace talks.
“Such wanton acts of terrorism will further strengthen our resolve to attain the mutually desired objective of sustainable peace between the two countries,'' Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said in a statement today. The culprits will be caught, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a separate statement.
The train service between Delhi and the Pakistani city of Lahore was resumed in 2004, a year after the countries began improving ties strained over the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir. The dispute caused two of the three wars the neighbors fought since independence from Britain in 1947.
As part of the Samjhota service, one train runs between Delhi and the northwestern Indian border town of Attari, from where another train takes passengers to Lahore. The area of the blast is about 300 kilometers from India's Jammu & Kashmir state.
The train service was suspended in 2002 following attacks the previous year on the Indian parliament. India blamed that incident on Pakistan-backed militants, an accusation denied by Pakistan. The service resumed after Musharraf and India's former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met at a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Summit in January 2004.
“Preliminary investigations show most of the victims are Pakistanis,'' Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in a telephone interview from the capital, Islamabad, today. “We expect India to conduct a thorough inquiry to find out the reasons behind this act.''
The Pakistan High Commission in the Indian capital is being informed about possible casualties, zonal railways official B.N. Mathur said. A railway guard manning a signal cabin on the route between Delhi and Attari heard two explosions when the train crossed the station near Panipat, a refinery town, Mathur told reporters from the blast site.
Low-noise explosives may have been used, Shivraj Patil, India's home minister, told reporters gathered at a New Delhi state hospital that treats burns patients. Some patients have 45 percent burn injuries, said Patil, whose ministry is responsible for interior security.
India was responsible for providing security for the train on its side of the border, Aslam said, refusing to comment on the impact of the attack on peace talks between the two countries. “We don't know the motive behind the blasts.''
The Indian Prime Minister expressed “anguish and grief'' at the deaths, said Sanjaya Baru, a spokesman at Singh's office.
Bombings in India on July 11 on commuter trains linking downtown Mumbai to outlying suburbs killed 184 people and caused the 44-month-old peace process between the two neighbors to break down, an initiative that resumed only in November. Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Pakistan last month as part of the revival in relations.
“We expect India to conduct investigations, share the results of the inquiry with Pakistan and punish the culprits,'' Aslam said in a briefing in Islamabad. “Yes, the possibility of targeting Pakistanis remains,'' Aslam said on the likely motive behind the blasts.
A 17-year insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state, has left at least 50,000 people dead. India has accused Pakistan of supporting the insurgency, a charge Pakistan denies.
“The attack is obviously aimed at hurting the process of improving bilateral relations,'' Dipankar Banerjee, director of New Delhi-based policy research group Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies, said in a telephone interview today. “Both India and Pakistan are vulnerable to terrorism and need to deal with the menace collectively.''
Passports are being used to identify the victims, local television channel NDTV India reported, citing officials it didn't name.
At least 12 patients, whose conditions are described as “very critical'' and “very, very critical'' by the hospital authorities, are being treated in New Delhi. These patients, 10 Pakistanis and two Indians, have sustained burn injuries, according to the medical bulletin of Safdarjung Hospital.
Patil's motorcade was halted by anxious relatives who thronged the hospital complex after local television stations broke the news.
Kasturi Lal, an Indian whose cousins came visiting from Pakistan, described the blasts as an “attack on humanity.'' Two of his cousins, Ashok Kumar and Ramesh Kumar who stay at Sialkot in Pakistan, have been injured in the blasts. “I could not even recognize their faces,'' Lal said.
Indian Railway Minister Prasad declared compensation of one million Indian rupees ($22,690) each to the next of kin of those killed in the blasts, local television station NDTV reported.
The impact of the blasts will probably be more pronounced on relations between the two countries than on Indian stocks, which remained largely immune to the repercussions of the July 11 attack in Mumbai. Indian shares rose for a second day.
“The blasts won't affect the markets,'' N.K. Garg, chief investment officer at Sahara Asset Management Co., said in a telephone interview today in Mumbai. “These are isolated incidents. And although sympathies will always be there, such attacks will not have an impact on the markets at least immediately.'' Garg manages $54 million in equity and debt.
India's benchmark Sensitive Index rose to a record a day after the Mumbai blasts.
India will give immediate visas to the relatives of Pakistanis injured or killed in yesterday's blast.
The following is a list of Indian High Commission numbers for those seeking immediate visas:
Indian High Commission in Islamabad: +92-51-282-8378; +92-51- 282-8377; +92-51-220-6950/51/52/53/54 Temporary Visa Camp at the Grand Hotel, 9-A, Davis Road, Lahore +92-42-636-0014