Hamid Karzai to Visit Pakistan for First Time Since Taking Power

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai will visit Pakistan on Friday for the first time since his interim government assumed power in December, Pakistan's Foreign Office said.

Pakistan used to be one of just three countries that recognized Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers and was strongly opposed to the opposition northern alliance, which makes now makes up a large part of the Karzai government.

But Pakistan distanced itself from the Taliban after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States and backed the U.S.-led bombing campaign that brought the hardline Islamic regime down.

Among the subjects to be discussed during Karzai's visit will be the return of Pakistanis captured fighting in Afghanistan. Thousands of militant Pakistanis and tribal fighters fought alongside the Taliban against the northern alliance. Pakistan sought better ties with the northern alliance after its forces seized the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Nov. 13.

Pakistan's government has not said how many Pakistanis were killed, captured or are missing, but about 1,100 are held in one northern Afghan prison alone. Pakistan, meanwhile, is home to 2 million Afghan refugees.

Karzai will meet Friday with President Pervez Musharraf, who was one of the first leaders to congratulate the Afghan leader when he took power Dec. 22. Karzai will return to Afghanistan on Saturday.

"Pakistan and Afghanistan through centuries have enjoyed warm relations and it is a matter of great pleasure and honor for us that Hamid Karzai is visiting Pakistan," Mohammed Aziz Khan, a Foreign Office spokesman, said Thursday. "We fully support the Afghan government."

Khan also said Afghanistan would soon reopen its embassy in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, and that its ambassador would take up his post in few days.

Pakistan reopened its embassy in Afghanistan on Jan. 14. The only other two countries to recognize the Taliban were Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and both cut their ties early in the U.S.-led campaign against the militia.