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Pakistan FM Urges US to Stop Forcing Pakistani Nationals to Register - 2003-01-18

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, traveling to Washington for official talks, says he hopes to get Pakistan's name removed from a list of countries, whose nationals are required to register with U.S. immigration authorities.

Foreign Minister Kasuri said he will urge American officials to exempt Pakistanis living in the United States from having to register and be fingerprinted.

Pakistan is among the several dozen nations with mostly Muslim populations covered by the new U.S. rules to make it easier to track the movements of potential terrorists. It applies to males over the age of 16 from countries suspected of having active terrorist cells.

In an interview with VOA, the Mr. Kasuri said he understands U.S. security concerns but Pakistan has been in the forefront in the war against terrorism and its citizens should not be subjected to the requirements. "Pakistanis have been by and large one of the most peaceful people in the United States and these people earn a living there and they support not only their families in the United States, but they support their families [in Pakistan] also," he said. "This is not really that raw material out of which terrorists spring. After all the tragic and terrible incident of [September 11, 2001] had no Pakistanis [involved]."

The U.S. rules are being widely criticized in Pakistan and stirring anti-American sentiment. Foreign Minister Kasuri said this is putting political pressure on the new government. "It has become a big political issue and the religious parties are trying to put pressure on our government," he said. "They are saying on the one hand you are trying to support the U.S. war on terrorism and on the other hand they don't really care much about Pakistanis. This is the sort of argument they are advancing, the religious parties and that is applying pressure on our government."

During his visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Kasuri will hold talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Pakistani officials say Mr. Kasuri is also seeking a meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Many Pakistanis living in the United States are now returning home before next month's registration deadline.