February 15, 2006

Pakistan releases 562 Afghans as Karzai arrives

KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistan freed 562 Afghans held in
detention for visa violations, in a goodwill gesture at the
start of a visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday.

Karzai, during his three-day visit, is expected to ask
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to do more to stop
Taliban fighters crossing into Afghanistan after a spate of
suicide bomb attacks over the past few months.

Although both are allies in a U.S.-led war against
terrorism, Afghanistan has still to overcome distrust lingering
on from Pakistan's support for the Taliban militia during its
rule of Afghanistan between 1996 and late 2001.

While security issues are expected to dominate talks, the
two sides will also look for ways to improve ties, and Afghan
officials welcomed the release of their countrymen on

"We are glad they released these poor laborers, they were
here for petty jobs," Abdul Muqtader Frozanfar, Afghanistan's
Consul General, told reporters as he received the released men
at the gates of a Karachi prison.

The Afghan government had requested release for the men,
who had been detained in various parts of Pakistan during the
last five months and held in Karachi.

"We have very few job opportunities in Afghanistan, so we
have to take some risks to make a living," said Khalaq Dad, 24,
from Kabul who worked for a software firm in Karachi before
being jailed four months ago.

Lala Mohammad, of Afghanistan's Kandahar province, was glad
that he was being repatriated after living in Karachi for the
past six years.

"I was thinking to go back but police arrested me," said
Mohammad, who had earned 150 rupees ($2.50) a day as a porter
at Karachi's main fruit and vegetable market before his
detention in January. "Thank God I am going back to my

Karzai's government has already released hundreds of
Pakistanis who fought on the Taliban's side when they were
defeated by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

(With reporting by Imtiaz Shah in Karachi)