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Islamabad Seeks Release of Pakistanis Held in Afghan Prisons - 2003-08-25

Pakistan says it is working with Afghan and U.S. officials to transfer hundreds of Pakistanis being held in Afghan jails. The deal hinges on whether ex-Pakistani militants in custody are ready to renounce their armed struggle.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri says he has met with the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, to seek the release of 643 Pakistani nationals being held in Afghan prisons.

The prisoners were captured fighting alongside the forces of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime, which was ousted by its Afghan opponents and a U.S.-led coalition force in 2001.

Afghan Foreign Ministry Spokesman Omar Samad said Afghanistan has no objection to the release of these prisoners, and has previously turned over several hundred Pakistani detainees for transfer to Pakistani prisons. "The Afghan government would like to see these former militants released as soon as possible, and as soon as the processes involved are carried out," he said.

But Mr. Samad also called for Pakistan to make sure no one who poses a continuing threat to Afghan security is allowed to go free following their return to Pakistan. "We have, unfortunately, reports that some of those who are being released from Pakistani jails, who have been transferred from Afghanistan, are claiming to want to return and continue their armed struggle," he said. "This is unacceptable."

Afghan, Pakistani and U.S. authorities each screen all of the prisoners slated for transfer from Afghan custody.

Mr. Kasuri said, during his recent visit to Kabul, about 10 percent of Pakistani nationals captured in Afghanistan still hold extremist views and, when questioned by American military screeners, vowed to return to fight. As a result, the U.S. military is reluctant to support the proposed transfer.

But Mr. Kasuri added that Pakistan encourages U.S. forces to keep anyone in custody who refuses to renounce armed opposition in Afghanistan.