- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NEW DELHI — Two men were allowed to jump from a Pakistan-bound train shortly before it erupted into flames and killed 68 persons, officials said yesterday, releasing sketches of the men and raising questions about security along the India-Pakistan rail link.

The search for suspects began as Pakistan’s foreign minister arrived in India saying the attack made peace talks between the longtime rivals even more urgent.

The two suspects, whose identities were not known, boarded the train when it left New Delhi on Sunday but quickly began arguing with the conductor, insisting they were on the wrong train. They were allowed to jump from the train as it slowed about 15 minutes before the crude bombs detonated, setting off the fires, said Sharad Kumar, a senior police official.

The fire destroyed two cars on the Samjhauta Express, one of the most visible symbols of the India-Pakistan peace process, about an hour after the train left New Delhi. Most of the victims were Pakistani.

The train goes to the border town of Atari without stopping, and the revelation that the two men were allowed off highlighted what most passengers already know: Security on the train and at stations is cursory at best. Baggage is not searched or scanned, identities are seldom checked and a security presence often is low, though police have swarmed stations since the bombing.

Authorities say two suitcases packed with crude unexploded bombs and bottles of gasoline were found in undamaged train cars.

The Indian rail system — one of the largest in the world, with 11,000 trains a day serving 80 million people — is simply too big to protect fully, many analysts say.

“Providing security for India’s vast railway network would be close to impossible,” said Ajit Doval, former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, which oversees internal security.

In further signs of lax security, Mr. Kumar said 13 passengers made it to the Pakistani side of Atari without passports. The train continued its run to the border after the two damaged cars were pushed off to a side track.

Tickets for the train are not supposed to be issued unless passports are presented. Mr. Kumar said the two officials who issued the tickets have been suspended.

Officials said the Sunday night train attack appeared intended to disrupt India-Pakistan relations, but instead leaders of both nations said they would press ahead with peace talks.

“The incident only adds to urgency for us to cooperate,” said Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, who was visiting a New Delhi hospital where nearly a dozen Pakistanis were being treated for burns.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who also met with victims at the hospital yesterday, said the best way to honor them was “to remain steadfast in our commitment to normalized relations between our two countries.”

New Delhi’s reaction was in stark contrast to the aftermath of last summer’s attacks on Bombay’s commuter trains, which killed more than 200 people. Indian officials at the time accused Pakistan-linked militant groups and sometimes Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

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