Afghan Foreign, Finance Ministers in Pakistan for Talks

August 27, 2002
ISLAMABAD -- Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani began two days of talks on Monday with their Pakistani counterparts, with the release of hundreds of Pakistani prisoners still held in Afghan jails expected to be high on the agenda.

Abdullah and Ghani flew into the capital Islamabad on a United Nations flight around noon (0600 GMT), AFP quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Abdullah went into talks with Pakistani Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Inamul Haq at the foreign office, while Ghani met his counterpart Shaukat Aziz.

Both men were to hold talks with Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider and Commerce Minister Abdul Razak Dawood on Tuesday before calling on President Pervez Musharraf, Foreign Office Spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan told a press briefing.

Apart from prisoner returns, bilateral trade and regional issues as well as Pakistan's role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan would be discussed, Khan said.

"The issues regarding the prisoners will certainly be raised, he said, announcing that the latest swathe of repatriations was due to start next week.

"Kabul authorities informed us already, they are at the moment checking the lists of the prisoners and some details and they have told us that very soon they will be giving us some kind of a schedule about the repatriation of those prisoners," he said.

Thousands of Pakistanis, many of them young religious students from remote rural areas, flooded into Afghanistan to support the Taleban regime against a U.S.-backed military coalition which routed the fundamentalist Islamic movement late last year.

More than 1,000 were thrown into Afghan jails after being captured with Taleban forces.

Kabul has released some 300 prisoners in staggered phases already this year and the Foreign Ministry estimates at least 800 remain.

However Pakistan's Human Rights Commission puts the figure at closer to 1,500, saying up to 2,000 were arrested during the U.S.-led military operation.

Kabul has also asked Islamabad to release "maybe thousands" of Afghans held in Pakistani prisons.

But Khan said only those who were jailed for petty crimes were likely to be released ahead of time.

"Afghan prisoners in Pakistan are those who are in jails for different crimes. Those prisoners are released once they have served the sentences that have been awarded them," he said. "In certain cases we also offered at one time that those who are in for petty crimes and so on ... If the Afghan government arranges for their taking over, we will hand them over, and in that also we have already informed the Afghan government that we are ready to hand over those prisoners."

The trip is only the second to Pakistan by Abdullah, a key powerbroker of the Northern Alliance, which fought the previously Pakistan-backed Taleban regime.

Pakistan is still viewed with suspicion by elements of the Northern Alliance, which dominates the Kabul administration.