With violence subsiding, Pakistan resumes passenger train service to Kohat, Mardan

By Javed Khan

A special train from Peshawar carries floats representing different parts of Pakistan last August. The government has resumed operating many passenger trains after the return of peace. [Javed Khan]

A special train from Peshawar carries floats representing different parts of Pakistan last August. The government has resumed operating many passenger trains after the return of peace. [Javed Khan]

PESHAWAR -- Passenger train services to southern Kohat District and central Mardan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have resumed years after being shut down because of extremist violence.

The train service from Nowshera to the Takhtbhai subdivision of Mardan, which is listed as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage site, resumed on March 2, according to officials. The service will be extended to Dargai in Malakand Division soon.

Pakistanis are taking trains to more destinations in KP and in other parts of the country amid improved security as the government reins in extremists.

Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad inaugurated the train that will take tourists from all parts of the country to Takhtbhai via Mardan and Nowshera.

The KP government has been asked to remove encroachments -- illegal businesses and construction near rail tracks -- so more trains can operate, he said.

"We have launched the Rahman Baba train from Peshawar to Karachi, and it has proved to be a great success as all the seats are occupied," Ahmad added.

Trains will run "from Dargai in Malakand District to Nowshera and onward to other parts of the country," Nasir Khalili, divisional engineer of Pakistan Railways, told Pakistan Forward.

With the train service, Dargai will connect Swat and other districts of Malakand with the rest of the country, he said, adding that Pakistan Railways began operating the train service on a directive from the federal government to provide better transport facilities to the public.

Improved law and order

Officials and observers credit an improvement in overall security for the restoration of train services.

"Train service from Rawalpindi to Kohat returned last year, while one led by Federal Minister for Railways Sheikh Rashid Ahmad took passengers to Takhtbhai on March 24 -- mainly because law and order in the province has returned to a great extent," Riffat Ullah Orakzai, a Peshawar-based journalist, told Pakistan Forward.

The train to Kohat probably will be extended to Lakki Marwat as workers remove encroachments from trackside, he added.

At the same time, "arrangements have been finalised for regular train service from Dargai to Nowshera and to the rest of the country in the coming couple of weeks," Ullah said.

Apart from the improvement in security, Ullah cited the commitment by the federal government to remove all encroachments as key in the resumption of all suspended train services.

"The government has announced it will reclaim all the tracks and properties of the railways, and now authorities should restore rail service to Torkham, Dargai and Lakki Marwat in KP, where the track already exists, so more passengers can benefit from it," he added.

Back in 2017, Pakistan Railways, motivated by progress in security, began regularly operating the tourist-friendly Safari Train in Punjab Province after a hiatus of many years.

Providing security

Dargai, where train service is expected to be extended in a few weeks, is part of Malakand District, once ruled by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan before troops drove it out.

The Rawalpindi-Kohat train service resumed in January 2018 after locals campaigned to have it restored. Kohat previously faced several violent attacks carried out by militants from North Waziristan as well as from nearby Dara Adamkhel.

Police vowed to protect the trains in Mardan and other parts of the country.

"We will provide the kind of security that is needed after the restoration of the train service to Mardan and onward to Dargai," District Police Officer Mardan Sajjad Khan told Pakistan Forward.

Residents are happy to see the passenger trains return to their towns, he said, adding that rail service to his hometown of Kohat resumed last year.

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