Even as External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi were reviewing the fourth round of the composite dialogue process in Islamabad on Wednesday, diplomacy was happening and relations between the two countries being cemented.
And the Indian Railways was smack in the middle of all this bonhomie. With the aim of bettering trade relations, goods trains have started carrying huge amounts of imported Pakistani cement from Attari.
Till December 2007, the level of goods train interchange with the Pakistan Railways was approximately half a rake each way per day. This increased to more than a rake a day each way in May 2008. Today, two pairs of freight trains are being interchanged on all days except for Mondays and Thursdays, when the Samjhauta Express runs between the two countries.
There are other initiatives: customs officials at Amritsar yard where freight trains from Pakistan are received and handled have been instructed to work round-the-clock. A 24X7 schedule has also been fixed for the Railways Goods shed there too, while the custom bonded area has been increased. Road access and lighting has been improved to enable handling of more cement traffic.
Previous to October last year, it had largely been one-way traffic: goods trains going loaded from India were returning empty. Since then, an estimated 2.5 lakh metric tonnes of imported cement has arrived from Pakistan. To ensure operational issues are adequately addressed, the two railways are interacting on a daily basis.