Bring Aafia Siddiqui back, but make her trial transparent
Bringing Aafia back without being able to probe the facts of her case transparently is immoral. We deserve to know!
Yesterday, major newspaper publications flashed a news report that the US has shown willingness to transfer Aafia Siddiqui, serving prison sentence in Texas, to Pakistan after signing of prisoner swap agreement. The US has proposed two conventions: the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad as a pattern for signing of the agreement.
Let us have a brief look at these conventions to understand the conditions under which Aafia can be transported to Pakistan. Both conventions provide that the sentence of the person accused shall be enforced in accordance with the laws and procedures of the receiving state and, as a result, the time period of the sentence can be reduced. But the European Convention on the transfer of Sentenced Persons states that,
“[each party] may grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its Constitution or other laws”.
Further, another condition of the European Convention merits attention: while converting the sentence, the receiving state “shall be bound by the … judgment imposed in the sentencing State”.
This, in my knowledge, means that the state of Pakistan can commute Aafia Siddiqui’s sentence and grant her pardon, but it would not be able to open a judicial review to probe the circumstances that led to her imprisonment in the USA.
Aafia Siddiqui’s trial has spawned a caseload of conspiracy theories; she has been accused of purchasing diamonds in Liberia to finance al-Qaeda war to becoming facilitator of al-Qaeda operatives in the USA. She has been varyingly called ‘Mata Hari of al-Qaeda’, ‘Grey Lady of Bagram’ and ‘Daughter of the Pakistani nation,’ by her opponents and supporters.
After her sentencing in 2010, mainstream political parties like PML-N and PTI and many right-wing parties protested against her sentence and demanded her release. The reasoning behind this demand of political parties for her release is simple: Aafia has a broad appeal; she appeals to moderate Muslims -who are moderate in the sense that they believe in the validity of representative democracy and provision of modern secular education by state. She also resonates with jihadists of different stripes, particularly the Taliban, who, albeit, are against constitutional democracy, secular education and fundamental human rights.
It is because an important constituent of discourse of both groups is anti-Americanism, an opposition to its alleged neo-imperialism and foreign policy agenda; so they view Aafia Siddiqui as an ‘intellectual’ speaking for Islam against the monolith of US foreign policy. Thus, she is a ‘Prisoner of Conscience,’ for both groups.
However, reality is not that simple: If we trace Aafia Siddiqui’s trajectory from MIT campus to Kabul, it is riddled with internal inconsistencies. To call her the “Daughter of the nation’ would be akin to calling her ‘Lady al-Qaeda’. The truth is hidden somewhere in different interpretations of Aafia Siddiqui.
It leads to an important question: should Pakistan sign a prisoner swap agreement with the US to transfer Aafia to Pakistan? Yes, she should be brought to Pakistan if the government can investigate her alleged link to suspected terrorists. The judicial probe might consider the following questions:
Was Aafia facilitating al-Qaeda operatives under the guise of Islamic charity work in Pakistan?
Where did she stay during her period of disappearance from 2003 to 2008?
How did she end up in Ghazni?
Why was her daughter separated from her and what happened to her third child?
Unless these questions are probed, the transfer of Aafia to Pakistan, and commutation of her sentence, without ascertaining the facts of the case, would serve to whet the militant discourse by establishing that she had been wronged and was a ‘victim.’
It is important to understand that the militant discourse thrives on the notion of victimhood. Muslims are portrayed as ‘victims’ of Jewish-American or European conspiracies.
A glowing account of a conspiracy theory, where Muslims are depicted as victims and pawns of western imperialism is the polio vaccination campaign which is equated with eugenics and the attempt of the west to control Muslim population. That said, the government of Pakistan must avoid becoming prey to the rhetoric of jihadist organisations because, unfortunately, this rhetoric also permeates the thinking of liberal Muslims due to manifest deficits of our education system. Educational practices have not nurtured the tradition of critical inquiry but fostered binary opposition between revealed knowledge and rationality, an elemental opposition that is also the centrepiece of jihadist narrative.
In short, bring Aafia to Pakistan if we can judge the facts of her case transparently. Only the search for truth can help us to escape the jihadist narrative of ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ and place the issues, plaguing Pakistan, in a historical context and drive us to find solutions for them.
Read more by Sameera here.