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Pakistan to pursue release of detainees

| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2002

KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistan is seeking the release of some of the 58 Pakistanis held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba because they are not hardcore al-Qaida members, a senior official said Saturday.

Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said a team of Pakistani anti-terrorism expert visited Guantanamo recently to interrogate Pakistanis and others held there. Most of them were not al-Qaida members but simply ordinary people who went to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban during last year's U.S. military campaign, he said.

Haider hinted at the possible release of some of the prisoners but did not say how many or when.

"We are in contact with U.S. officials to this effect, and President (Gen. Pervez) Musharraf would take up the matter in the U.S. next month. We are hopeful for positive results," Haider said.

Musharraf plans to travel to the United States next month for the annual U.N. General Assembly debate in New York City.

Pakistan became a key ally of the United States in the war against terrorism after Musharraf abandoned support for the Taliban following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Pakistani officials say the government has handed over more than 300 suspected al-Qaida members to the United States. They were captured in the remote tribal areas along the Afghan border and in raids in Faisalabad, Lahore and other major cities in Pakistan.

Among them was Abu Zubaydah - believed to be the highest-ranking al-Qaida member in U.S. custody. He was arrested in March in Faisalabad while allegedly attempting to reorganize the movement following the collapse of the Taliban last year.

Despite Pakistan's support for the anti-terrorism war, thousands of men heeded the call of hardline clerics and rushed to Afghanistan to help defend the hardline Islamic movement as the United States prepared for military operations, which began Oct. 7. Many of them were killed or were captured when the Taliban collapsed under relentless U.S. bombing; others managed to escape back into Pakistan.

Haider said his government is taking steps to reduce the influence of hardline clerics and to rid Pakistan of terrorist groups. The government also is focusing on reforming the Islamic school system, he said, adding that extremists are giving Islam a bad name.

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