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Islamabad Urges US to Exempt Pakistanis from New Registration Rules

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri urged the United States to exempt his country from new rules requiring men from some countries to register with U.S. immigration authorities. The foreign minister made the request this week during a visit to Washington.

The new immigration rules were issued after the 9-11 terrorist attacks and require male visitors from more than 20 mainly Muslim countries to register with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration is sensitive to Pakistani concerns, but Pakistan will not be exempted from the program.

Foreign Minister Kasuri said given Pakistan's cooperation in the war against terrorism, and the positive track record of most Pakistanis living in the United States, his countrymen should be exempt from having to register. "The government and the people of Pakistan are cognizant of the United States' needs for monitoring aliens," he said. "We are quite aware of your sensitivities after 9-11. But we feel the Pakistani community in the United States is law abiding, peaceful and has no links of any kind to terrorism."

Mr. Kasuri said Pakistanis have a very negative view of the U.S. registration program and it is causing problems for the government in Islamabad. "The difficulties arising out of the process have provided our opponents, many of whom oppose Pakistan's role as a partner of the United States in our fight against terrorism, enough propaganda material to create problems for our newly elected government as well as for President Musharraf," he said. "As I have said before, if the United States had to make an exception in its own national interest, it should have been Pakistan."

The foreign minister's remarks came as controversy surrounded the brief detention of a visiting Pakistani scholar and journalist by immigration officials in Washington.

Ejaz Haider was detained and questioned by agents apparently because he missed a deadline requiring him to check back with immigration authorities within 40 days of his arrival in the United States. Mr. Haider is in the country working as a research scholar for the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Stephen Cohen, the head of Brookings' South Asia program, is highly critical of the decision to detain Mr. Haider. "The United States still has to come to a balance between the requirements of security, which I think are real and legitimate, and the requirements of civil liberties, which are also very, very important," he said. "The most important time to preserve those civil liberties is when you are in a crisis such as in the post 9-11 era."

VOA contacted officials at the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Justice but both had no immediate comment on Mr. Haider's detention.