RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Longstanding rivals India and Pakistan continue their peace process. Today they're meeting to discuss ways to fight terrorism, a first for the two countries. Thousands of people have died in sectarian and political attacks on temples, railroads and other places both in majority Hindu India and majority Muslim Pakistan.
Commentator Bilal Qureshi recalls an earlier era of conflict when Pakistan was being split off from India.
Mr. BILAL QURESHI: My family is from the state of Punjab. In 1947, my grandfather traveled by train to the city of Lahore. The Punjab was being partitioned along religious lines and he was fleeing sectarian violence along with millions of other Muslims.
But before they reached their destination, a mob of Hindus and Sikhs attacked the train with knives and machetes. Two of my great aunts were killed, their throats slit by the attackers. My grandfather escaped and made his way to what is now Pakistan. Other trains carrying Hindus and Sikhs to India were attacked by Muslims. There were reports of trains arriving at their destinations filled with dead bodies.
In 2004, after almost 60 years of conflict, the train links between India and Pakistan reopened as a hope for reconciliation. The train was called the Samjhauta Express, which means agreement, friendship and peace. Last month bombs went off on the Samjhauta Express. Dozens of people were killed. Most of the passengers were Pakistanis visiting friends and family across the border in India, some for the first time in decades.
The attacks on this train showed there are still people who wish to derail the peace process. For centuries before the partition of Punjab, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs live together in Delhi, Lahore and other cities. And to this day, Punjabis in India and Pakistan share a common language and culture.
When I returned to Pakistan last year, I traveled to the border with India. On both sides of the barbed wire impassioned crowds were shouting nationalist slogans at each other. It felt so unnatural. They looked the same, they spoke the same language and even used the same expressions. But the uniformed soldiers with their guns made the border seem very real.
My grandfather used to tell stories of his Hindu best friends and Sikh neighbors in his beloved hometown of Gurdaspur in India. He never had a chance to return to his ancestral home after partition. He died in Pakistan, yearning to see that city once again.
I plan to return to Lahore this summer. When I do, I will board the Samjhauta Express to India and make the journey my grandfather never had the chance to complete.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: Commentator Bilal Qureshi is a graduate student at Columbia University.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.