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Last train to India leaves Pakistan amid war fears

From Ash-har Quraishi

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Crowds started to gather early at Lahore's rail station Monday as the last scheduled train to neighboring India prepared to board just before sunrise.

The Indian government has suspended the Samjhauta Express -- the only rail line connecting India and Pakistan -- amid the crisis sparked by the December 13 suicide attack on India's parliament.

The departure is a heartbreaking journey for passengers such as Naheed Arshad. Born in Pakistan, Arshad married and moved to India 19 years ago. She cut short her first visit with her brother in five years because of the crisis.

"It's my brother's wedding tomorrow, but we are going back today because this is the last train, and if we don't take it, we won't be able to get back," Arshad said.

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"I can barely speak," she added. "I've cried so much that I've lost my voice."

The rail line has been in service since 1976. With only a few interruptions in the past, it has become a relatively inexpensive way to travel between India and Pakistan. A ticket costs less than $3.

It may be the last train allowed to take passengers to the other side of the border. Pakistan says it will send another train as scheduled later this week, but there is no guarantee that it will reach its destination.

The word Samjhauta means "agreement" in Hindi and Urdu -- a fitting title for a train that the governments of both countries agreed upon to connect families divided by a man-made geographical border.

But with India demanding Pakistan take action against groups New Delhi blames for the parliament attack, and both countries massing troops along their frontier, the border once again is separating sisters from brothers, uncles from nephews and mothers from sons.

Among the passengers leaving Lahore on Monday were two brothers who had returned to Pakistan 54 years after independence and partition. They said goodbye to relatives they had met for the first time.

One man urged a departing relative, "Please pray to God. Let these two countries learn to compromise. Give India the sense to cool down."




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