Distraught relatives of the two captives Sajid Naeem and Azad Hussein Khan joined opposition parties in accusing the government of not doing enough to secure the hostages' release and of failing to rule out sending troops to Iraq, a reason cited by their captors for holding them.

 

Hundreds of people converged on the men's homes in the remote Kashmiri village of Rawalakot, 75 kilometres (around 45 miles) northeast of Islamabad.

 

Government blamed

 

"This is an overwhelming tragedy for us," Khan's sister-in-law, choked with emotion, told AFP by telephone. Loud wailing and crying could be heard in the background.

 

Khan's brother-in-law, Abdul Razaq, condemned the Pakistani government for not ruling out sending troops to Iraq in order to save the hostages' lives.

 

Their captors said the men had been working for US forces in Iraq, and indicated they wanted Musharraf to rescind statements about the possibility of sending troops to the war-torn country.

 

"If the government of Pakistan had tried, this tragedy could've been averted," he said.

 

"The government should have categorically said that it would not send troops to Iraq."

 

As opposition MPs joined the recriminations, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri told the parliament that the government had never committed to sending troops to Iraq.

The two Pakistanis were part of
seven hostages taken earlier

"I and the foreign office spokesman said it explicitly, that Pakistan had taken no decision to send its forces to Iraq," he told the national parliament.

 

Pakistan, however, has said it would consider sending troops to protect a future UN mission in Baghdad, but only if Iraqi authorities invited them and its own parliament approved such a move.

 

Islamabad refused a request by Washington last year to send troops and has not taken any decision so far on the fresh US request to contribute troops for the UN mission.

 

"We have suffered an irretrievable loss, but there are thousands of Kashmiris working in Iraq earning bread and butter to send back home, and for safety and security the government should state that it's not sending troops to Iraq," Razaq said.

 

Bread and butter

 

Some 25,000 to 30,000 Pakistani Kashmiris have travelled to the Middle East to earn money to send back to their families, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri told parliament this week.

 

Hundreds of people from Rawalakot alone were in Iraq, having signed up to work with the Saudi-owned al-Tamimi group, whose managers were from the village. Naeem and Kahn had been working for al-Tamimi.

 

Kasuri said the government would seek compensation for their families from al-Tamimi.

 

"The foreign office is approaching the al-Tamimi company for adequate compensation," Kasuri said.

 

Opposition Pakistan Peoples Party legislator Raja Pervez Ashraf said the government should have issued a clear-cut policy.

 

"The government should have categorically announced it is not sending troops to Iraq," he said.

 

Government reaction

 

The Pakistan embassy in Baghdad has requested that the bodies be handed over so they can be repatriated to Pakistan "for burial as per Islamic traditions," an official said.

 

Pakistan's embassy in Baghdad confirmed the executions of migrant workers Naeem, 29, and Khan, 49, after Aljazeera broke the news late on Wednesday.

"The government should have categorically said that it would not send troops to Iraq."

Khan's brother-in-law

"It is confirmed that the two Pakistani nationals have been executed by the militant group," the mission's charge d'affaires, Muhammad Iftikhar Anjum, told AFP in Baghdad.

 

Pakistanis had been optimistic that their lives would be spared, after the Pakistani driver captured by Iraqi militants in June was released a week later after appeals on the grounds he was a fellow Muslim.

 

"The whole country has gone into mourning over this news," foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan said.