KARACHI, March 30 Sixty-eight Pakistanis have been released and repatriated from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay while five were still being held there, according to comments submitted by the ministry of foreign affairs in the Sindh High Court.

The detainees, according to the ministry are Saifullah Paracha, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, Mohammad Ahmed Ghulam Rabbani, Majid Khan and Abdul Aziz alias Ammar Ali Baluchi.

The comments were filed following a court direction in a petition moved by Mst Mariam, wife of detainee Abdul Aziz, and paternal aunt of Khalid Mohammad Shaikh. The petitioner and her counsel, Ghulam Qadir Jatoi, say that Khalid was also being kept at Guantanamo Bay but his detention there was being concealed by the US authorities.

The ministry said the government had constantly been in touch with the US authorities at various levels to seek early repatriation of the detained Pakistani nationals and protect their rights and interests. Besides regular diplomatic contacts, the matter had been taken up at the highest level by the president and the prime minister.

According to the procedure prescribed by the US authorities for Guantanamo detainees, a `combatant status review tribunal` is convened to determine the status of the inmates. If a prisoner is found to be an `enemy combatant`, his detention is extended. The case of each detainee for release and repatriation is finally considered by an `administrative review board`.

Detainee Abdul Aziz (Ammar Baluchi), the ministry said citing the US state department, was transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006. He was to be tried on charges relating to the 9/11 attacks.

The ministry said the government was making all-out efforts for the release of innocent Pakistanis and agitating their detention through the United Nations would adversely affect the bilateral approach, which had successfully worked so far.

Employees` case

A three-member bench comprising Justices Munib Ahmed Khan, Sajjad Ali Shah and Khalid Ali Z. Qazi, meanwhile, heard arguments on the effect of Supreme Court judgments of 2006 and 2007 on the cases ending before the Federal Service Tribunal.

An 11-member bench of the Supreme Court held in June 2006 that the employees of public sector corporations and banking institutions could not be treated as `civil servants` under Section 2-A of the FST Act. The provision was unltra vires and the employees could not agitate their service matters before the tribunal. They should approach an appropriate forum for the redress of their grievances, the judgment said without specifying the new competent forum. The pending cases before the FST abated following the SC verdict.A three-member SC bench, however, declared in an individual employee`s case that an abatement order passed by the FST on the judicial side was essential to terminate the proceedings in the pending cases. Many of the aggrieved employees approached the high court after abatement of their cases in the FST. An objection was raised by the employers` counsel that the petitions moved by the employees following abatement of their cases in the FST could not be entertained without a judicial order passed by the FST.

Advocate Mansoorul Haq Solangi argued before the three-member bench that the 2006 SC verdict by an 11-member bench was meant for general application and it had already been acted upon. The 2007 order was passed by a three-member bench in an individual employee`s appeal and the high courts were free to hear the employees` cases without a judicial order from the FST.