“Samjhauta” Thwarted: Another Senseless, Horrible Bombing

It’s difficult to know what to say sometimes after terrorist attacks like the recent bombing of the Samjhauta Express. 68 innocent people lost their lives — and for what? If it turns out to be an attack planned by Kashmiri militants or other Islamists, this kind of attack seems particularly bizarre, as it appears that the majority of the people who died were in fact Pakistanis. (If another motive or ideological agenda was behind the attack, it’s not as if it would be any better.) And needless to say, if this follows the pattern of some other recent terrorist attacks in India, it’s entirely possible — likely, even — that weeks will go by without any satisfactory answers appearing. (I’m perfectly happy to be proven wrong if this turns out not to be true.)

Here are some of the issues I’ve seen people discussing with regards to this attack:

  • At Outlook, there is an interesting article that describes in depth the general lack of security on the Samjhauta Express train. Hopefully, both governments are going to seriously revamp this.
  • A big question that people are asking is, were the doors locked from the inside, preventing people who survived the original explosions from escaping the two burning cars? Some witnesses have claimed they were, but India has denied it. At Bharat-Rakshak, however, I came across a commenter who has a good explanation for why this might have been done:
    In north India, when travelling overight, train compartments are usually locked from inside to prevent entry of people who do not have reservations in that compartment. The TT opens them at stations to allow entry only the passengers that belong to that compartment.

    With intense heat, the locked door latches must have jammed. It is difficult to open these latches even otherwise. Women and kids have to ask other passengers to help then open the door.

    The windows in trains are barred to prevent ‘chain snatching’ and other types of burglaries. (link)
    Those sound like good reasons, but I hope after this tragedy officials are thinking about possible failsafe mechanisms, so nothing like this happens again.
  • Sketches have been released of the suspects. They were apparently speaking the “local Hindi language.” That doesn’t tell us much, however.
  • What was the explosive used? The bombs are being described as IEDs with kerosene and other “low intensity” fuels — in other words, not RDX or other material obtained through transnational networks. These sound like materials that are very easily available, but still incredibly deadly for people in a confined space. A witness at the BBC mentions that the explosions did not force the conductor to stop the train right away — indeed, he may not have known about them until several minutes after the fires started.

37 thoughts on ““Samjhauta” Thwarted: Another Senseless, Horrible Bombing

  1. At Outlook, there is an interesting article that describes in depth the general lack of security on the Samjhauta Express train. Hopefully, both governments are going to seriously revamp this.

    Amardeep,

    Since the Samjhauta Express tragedy, I have been reading up quite a bit, and also have done quite a few (a lot of) train rides in India myself. In fact, I was thinking of taking Samjhauta express myself last year, but my trip to Pakistan got canceled.

    First,

    Security @ trains are next to impossible……..except coaches that have very limited access like AC, First class, etc.

    Second,

    Samjhauta express had some level of security (doors were locked, and tragically they hampered rescue, had more security personnel) – more than trains in India and Pakistan usually have. They (Govt. of India and Pakistan) have always known about the vulnerability of this train, like the cross border buses. Apparently not enough.

    This train is used very heavily by people who cannot afford air travel, it targeted poor people of India and Pakistan traveling to meet their kins, etc.

  2. From your post:

    In north India, when travelling overight, train compartments are usually locked from inside to prevent entry of people who do not have reservations in that compartment. The TT opens them at stations to allow entry only the passengers that belong to that compartment.

    With intense heat, the locked door latches must have jammed. It is difficult to open these latches even otherwise. Women and kids have to ask other passengers to help then open the door.

    The windows in trains are barred to prevent ‘chain snatching’ and other types of burglaries

    That is true, Amardeep.

  3. Not to distract from the original topic of the post, but the MTA in NYC has taken to locking the doors of subway cars to prevent people from switching cars while the train is moving. I’ve been wondering about the safety of that for a while. Clearly it’s an issue.

  4. Kush, thanks for your comments.

    Tamasha, yes, that was something I was thinking about too. I wonder if the NYC trains have a ‘failsafe’ system on the doors — so they automatically unlock in an emergency.

  5. Great Link Kush!

    , If the culprits turn out to be Indians themselves, India has a lost a significant moral ground in its fight against terrorism.

  6. the train doors were locked to prevent pakistani’s from getting off. So that they wouldn’t escape and try and live in india…

  7. Funny how when there is a terror attack in India, there is no comment here at Sepia Mutiny about the behaviour of the State which may have led to it, but if it took place in Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, there would always be a spiel about “how the government is not innocent either.”

  8. , If the culprits turn out to be Indians themselves, India has a lost a significant moral ground in its fight against terrorism.

    Um no. If the culprits turn out to be Indians, it is revealed they were aided and financed by the Indian government, and the Indian government hides and protects them, THEN, India has lost “significant moral ground.” Its how the state responds to the crime that defines its standing and moral ground, not the nationality of the terrorists are.

  9. Funny how when there is a terror attack in India, there is no comment here at Sepia Mutiny about the behaviour of the State which may have led to it, but if it took place in Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, there would always be a spiel about “how the government is not innocent either.”

    Um yes, the “behavior of the state.” The ruthless Indian government brought this upon themselves by oppressing Indians and Pakistanis with a rail-link that could be used for families to reunite and see each other again. And are you kidding me, India = Pakistan now government culpability? Gawd, go beat your strawman else where, youre done here.

  10. Tufaan, Don’t bite the hand that feeds…the SM bloggers go out of their way to present historical wrongs that might serve as explanations for this kind of nutso behavior. I bear you no ill will, if the initial conditions of the Big Bang were just slightly different I could have ended up on the wrong side of the subcontinental divide and history as some kind of fundie squid man in Aquastan

  11. If the culprits turn out to be Indians themselves, India has a lost a significant moral ground in its fight against terrorism.

    Whaat? most terrorists are homegrown Indian muslims. (not trying to b a troll, i said most)

  12. Desi Cynic

    Whaat? most terrorists are homegrown Indian muslims? What about West Bengal and Assam separatists (Nov 20 06) bomb train,Nagaland separatists and going back in history a little – Golden temple incident and Tamil separatists? Peeps memories are short and you are merely assisting construction of Islamofacist stereotypes and fanning the flames. There are other anti-gov forces at play in Bharat not jus’ Muslims

    Check my comments on my blog

  13. They (Govt. of India and Pakistan) have always known about the vulnerability of this train, like the cross border buses. Apparently not enough.

    The nature of this train was more political than practical and that made it a more likely target. Reading the accounts of travellers on that train, the lack of security becomes more apparent and just exposes the callousness of the governments.

  14. Amardeep, Though the incident is still in the preliminary stage of investigation and no one has been identified as a likely subject, I don’t think it is fair to say yet that this attack is unlikely to have been or bizarre for kashmiri terrorists to have carried out. The majority of victims killed by the violence in kashmir have been kashmiris themselves, muslims specifically. Further more its important to consider that the majority of pakistanis and indians on this train would have been mohajirs, who are ethnically different from kashmiris and the punjabis that form the majority of the pakistani elite and establishment.

  15. Agreed with Pavan . . . let’s not forget the Malegeon bombings which were aimed at Muslims. Some lefties and apologist types were getting excited of the thought of finally getting one the Hindus did. Except it turned out they didn’t.

  16. One thing I noticed while traveling in India last month was, at least in the AC compartments, for the first time I actually saw an emergency exit midway through the coach. I saw this only in one train (which was nothing different from the others in any other way like the Rajdhani or something) and only in the AC compartment, I did not see the same in sleeper non AC coaches nor general unreserved coaches. The railways generally phases in things gradually and so emergency exits may be part of the new coach design and we should see more of these in the future. Its a different thing whetehr they design these doors to not get jammed due to thermal expansion.

    Completely agree with Mertic System, India loses high ground only if it turns out the state or soem part of the Govt like RAW was involved with this (like the ISI in Pakistan) which I highly doubt!

  17. I guess we should not forget that the struggle in kashmir is more political. Pakistan and militancy have indeed given it some religious flavor but the base struggle is still political.

    Further more its important to consider that the majority of pakistanis and indians on this train would have been mohajirs, who are ethnically different from kashmiris and the punjabis that form the majority of the pakistani elite and establishment.

    If I understand correctly the point you are trying to make – I have talked to a lot of my Pakistani friends a lot of them Punjabi and also one who is a Kutchi Shia Muslim who grew up in Karachi and would probably classify as a Mohajir. All of them said there is no discrimination based on the lines of Mohajirs and non Mohajirs in the mind sof most people. The Punjabis, Sindhis, Pathans and a lot of the MOhajirs who are settled in the Karachi area all have their identity and there is some friction between the various groups but its not as bad.

  18. If the culprits turn out to be Indians themselves, India has a lost a significant moral ground in its fight against terrorism

    I should have made this more clear, What i mean was if the culprits turned out to be Government sponsored or a RAW hand. RAW reports directly to the Prime Minister, so an image of the dignified SIngh sanctioning killing of innocent civilians is a little out there. However, if the perpetrators turn out to be Hindu fanatics, that still puts a smear on India.

  19. Ardy -

    you said “I have talked to a lot of my Pakistani friends a lot of them Punjabi and also one who is a Kutchi Shia Muslim who grew up in Karachi and would probably classify as a Mohajir. All of them said there is no discrimination based on the lines of Mohajirs and non Mohajirs in the mind sof most people.”

    A lot of the tension that exist(ed) in Pakistan in the early 1970s and on was between indigenous Punjabis (i.e. not Mohajirs from the Indian Punjab – yes, there are some of those)and Mohajirs, who felt they were not adequately represented in the political and economic forums, that indigenous Punjabis had far better access to lucrative jobs, etc. Not saying one side is necessarily right or wrong. And the tensions still very much exist. Just look at the history of Karachi through the 1980s and 1990s. Ever heard of Altaf Hussein and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement? I lived in Karachi for all of the 1990s and it was, on occasion, pretty damn terrifying, given first the fighting between MQM and those they felt were oppressing Mohajirs and then between different factions of MQM. The fact of the matter is there is still, to this day, some tension between the two groups.

  20. Whoever did it has very low intelligence level as killing innocent poor people never achieve anything. If they did it for any cause they should try to hit it where it hurts.

  21. Kesh, At this point rediff is reporting that 49 of the 68 dead have been identified. 22 are Pakistani natiionals, and 27 are indian nationals. Among the 49 identified so far 27 are hindus and 22 are muslims, with some of the hindus actually being Pakistani nationals returning home. Don’t know how accurate this is at this point but I think we should all avoid making generalizations as to who the victims or perpetrators were or might be based on religion. For what its worth the article states that the numbers above came from Pakistan’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Here’s the link http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/feb/21raman.htm

  22. Ardy,

    Karachi is the only diverse city of Pakistan. So when inept General Zia came to power he discriminated Karachiites as he feel threaten by them. He put the city under indefinite curfews and closed down higher education institutes, cancelled exams so all of Karaciities are behind in educational system by two years than their counterparts. Discrimination is alive and well as there is documented proof of it on the basis of representation. Punjabis and Pathans dominate the Armed forces and civil services and wouldn’t let other minorities including Baluch, Sindhi, Seraiki, and Mohajir to enter in these fields. It’s not only Mohajir issue try to find out about Baluchistan and Rural Sindh and you find alienation factor among them too. I might like to add feudal system is still in effect in Pakistan and Punjab being the largest province has most zamindars there so it might be the other reason of Punjab domination.

  23. AS and Neena

    I guess I should elaborate a little more :-) I have quoted Pavan in #18 to which I said what I did and not as a blanket statement. I got the feeling he implied (and with due credit to Pavan, I may be wrong and he may have meant something else) that the rest of the Pakistanis wont care about these Pakistanis being killed since they were Mohajirs.

    I know about the MQM and I did bring it up when my friend from karachi and I were talking about Mohajirs and he said MQM was stronger in the past but in recent times Mohajirs dont have to deal with discrimination for being Mohajirs (or maybe not to the same extent as it was previously). I am well aware that there are tensions due to the feudal system and the fact that Punjabis dominate a lot of the army and politics but I dont think that would mean that Punjabis wont have issues if 50 Mohajirs were killed.

  24. Just to disclaim :-) , I am not Pakistani and know what I do about Paksitan by talking to people and stuff. I guess I do take interest in Pakistan because I trace my origins to Sargodha and Lahore and would love to visit someday but for now I am no expert. You guys may very well be right

  25. Back on topic — this is big news in Karachi, of course, given some of the dead are Pakistanis. And the National assembly has demanded a joint PK-India inquiry.

    And how perfect is this — Indian soldier Kashmir Singh dies saving Pakistani passengers on the Samjhauta Express! Is there a better name for this than Kashmir Singh! I can see the highly allegorical yet oddly boring Deepa Mehta movie already. More seriously, the Dawn has recieved some nice letters from Indians on the tragedy. All this will likely create goodwill. Silver lining, etc.

  26. Back on topic — this is big news in Karachi, of course, given some of the dead are Pakistanis. And the National assembly has demanded a joint PK-India inquiry.

    Ikram,

    There is a reason for no joint inquiry. It is possible that in long run both the governments see a common monster.

    Right now, it is only talk (that in itself is quite significant), maybe in future.

    The best we can hope is that the victims and affected families are treated with dignity, and care.

  27. It seems like joint enquiry is a Pakistani ploy to drag and involve India and its Muslims to share the Pakistani reputation for global terror activities. That’s what Pakistan wants to cash on.They developed terror cells in India and these cells are not getting as much blame world wide as Pakistan would like to! Because they believe that any way they are drowning as the source of terror around the world and they want to take India and its Muslims with them to spoil Indian reputation in the war against terror!!(it should be noted here till now no Indian Muslim is involved in any global terror act,for that matter no Indians after the bombing of Indian air lines flight Kanishka by perceived Indian origin terrorists.(even though Canadian system took more than a decade to come to a conclusion and still the case is on). As per terror activities in India, lets accept that with out the local help its difficult to carry out these terror acts. Because the master minds were always Pakistani nationals in all the recent terror acts (weather its in Mumbai, Delhi and varanasi bomb blasts). It will take time to bring the culprits who are behind the samjhauta express.As for the Terrorists speaking local Hindi ,well They can disguise by wearing dasti and dothi also ,That doesn’t tell us much!! however,Lets not kid our selfs.We all know the facts.

    Lets hope common sense will prevail!!

  28. Everyone knows the role of Rastriya Sayamsewak Sangh(RSS) in the terror attack against Gandhi in 1948. Therefore whether RSS is behind this blast also should be impartially investigated.

  29. Aakash, unless you were being sarcastic, that has to rank as one of the most stupid comments I have had the misfortune of reading.

  30. It seems like joint enquiry is a Pakistani ploy to drag and involve India and its Muslims to share the Pakistani reputation for global terror activities. That’s what Pakistan wants to cash on.They developed terror cells in India and these cells are not getting as much blame world wide as Pakistan would like to! Because they believe that any way they are drowning as the source of terror around the world and they want to take India and its Muslims with them to spoil Indian reputation in the war against terror!!(it should be noted here till now no Indian Muslim is involved in any global terror act,for that matter no Indians after the bombing of Indian air lines flight Kanishka by perceived Indian origin terrorists.(even though Canadian system took more than a decade to come to a conclusion and still the case is on). As per terror activities in India, lets accept that with out the local help its difficult to carry out these terror acts. Because the master minds were always Pakistani nationals in all the recent terror acts (weather its in Mumbai, Delhi and varanasi bomb blasts). It will take time to bring the culprits who are behind the samjhauta express.As for the Terrorists speaking local Hindi ,well They can disguise by wearing dasti and dothi also ,That doesn’t tell us much!! however,Lets not kid our selfs.We all know the facts. Lets hope common sense will prevail!!

    Anil. This is the most sane comment on this thread. As for Aakash bringing in RSS into the picture is playing right into the hands of the perpetrators. Pakistan is known to cultivate hatred against Indians and hindus. The very next day of the blasts Pakistan television was up with reports of RSS and Bajrangdal’s involvement.

  31. India supports terrorism and has supported in the past. Muslim terrorism is the backlash against it. And yes, Indian mischief in Sri Lanka should not be forgotten.

  32. Anil. This is the most sane comment on this thread. As for Aakash bringing in RSS into the picture is playing right into the hands of the perpetrators. Pakistan is known to cultivate hatred against Indians and hindus. The very next day of the blasts Pakistan television was up with reports of RSS and Bajrangdal’s involvement.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA You want me to remind you of Thackeray’s comments or Gujarat riots?

  33. Aslam on February 26, 2007 11:49 PM • Direct link

    India supports terrorism and has supported in the past. Muslim terrorism is the backlash against it. And yes, Indian mischief in Sri Lanka should not be forgotten.

    HAHAHAHAHAHA

    You want me to remind you of Thackeray’s comments or Gujarat riots?

    Can anyone tell me when India has supported terror?.I am surprised by the ignorance by some posters and the lack of condemnation here.

    1. As far as Srilanka goes lets not forget the enormous sacrifices made by the Indian peace keeping force and the sacrifice of Rajiv Gandhi’s life. India failed in spite of loosing thousands of solder’s lives.(I was very young to disapprove of this operation……but its like “becoming wise after the event)..

    2. Compared to that what’s the contribution of Pakistan in Bangladesh and Afghanistan (Lets not talk about Pakistan’s support to Taliban and Al-Qida here)!! Lets talk about Bangladesh liberation, where Pakistani Punjabi army terrorized and butchered thousands of innocents Bengali muslims. India went there like in srilanka but with a different result. That is a viable Bangladesh was formed (not on religious basis and its still a democracy).So India’s war against terror have limited results. Contrary to this where Pakistanis are sponsoring, harbouring and masterminding in blowing up moderate Kashmiri leaders and Hindu pundits?

    3. Gujarat riots are concerned its an internal turmoil like the ones happening in Pakistan and Iraq-the shia- sunni conflict(like it was perceived in the muslim world that this is a conspiracy by western world,same way many Indians like me feel the Majority-minority-riots in India are the handiwork of Pakistan and its agencies).These types of riots should be condemned and responsible should face the law of the land.

    I am not interested or agree of what Thackeray says politically but practically he is just a hard line politician (but he is entitled to his view in a democracy and there onwards it’s a choice).

    When people talk about desi unity moment against stereo types of terrorists in US ,only we have to say we are not from Pakistan or explain Pagidi /dasti is different to what arabs wear(I am not saying all Pakistani’s support terror but the question is what are they doing to question their government and Agencies?).well that may be too much to ask in a dictatorship!!