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Samjhauta Express from December 25?

By P.K. Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI DEC. 18. Indo-Pakistan talks on the resumption of the Samjhauta Express, the lone train service between the two neighbours, discontinued on January 1, 2002 in the wake of terrorist attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, began here this morning at Rail Bhavan.

Considerable progress was reported in the talks held in a cordial atmosphere. Indications are that all issues would be clinched tomorrow paving the way for the resumption of the train service either towards the beginning of the last week of the year or possibly on New Year Day.

The focus of the talks today was on the safety and security aspects of the operation in view of the persisting militancy and the service having been targeted in the past. The concerns of the two sides in relation to smuggling of contraband goods are also being addressed. The other aspects of the operation, including the timetable and the fare structure, were engaging the attention of the two delegations. All modalities are to be finalised by the two sides.

Earlier, a meeting of representatives of all Ministries, including those of External Affairs, Home and Railways, was held on December 9. The signal from the Prime Minister's Office was that the service ought to be resumed as fast as possible and that the modalities should be worked out quickly.

That explains the optimism about an early start of the service between Attari and Lahore. It was also said that the new service could well be operated between the holy city of Amritsar and Lahore though, until the suspension, the service was running between Attari and Lahore.

The earliest date for the resumption of the service could be December 25. The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, would celebrate his birthday that day whereas Pakistan would be observing the birth anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

Sources in the Indian Railways said that if all went well, the service could become functional from Christmas Day. A couple of days would be enough to put the service back on the rails, given the fact that Indian Railways had kept everything in a state of preparedness as the resumption of the train service had been on the cards since the restoration of the air link between the two countries.

January 1 will be the other option in case the plans to restore the service from December 25 do not materialise for some reason. In any case, the service would restart before of the SAARC summit in Pakistan.

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