About a year ago, I wrote a column that got the ghairat brigade on my case. The gist of the column was that the trial in the US was based on a case of evidence, and lack of, that the US had full control over in the alleged attempt to shoot a US soldier by Dr Aafia Siddiqui. That she would get a fair trial was dubious, plus the case was opportunistic because the US took the easy way out and didn’t prosecute her for her alleged links to al Qaeda but instead for a shooting during a questioning. She was, after all wanted for links to terrorism initially. Then of course, one of the main problems is the US took a third party national from Afghanistan for a trial in their domestic courts.
The offending opinion which got the aforementioned ghairat specialists riled up, which I still subscribe to, is that from what we know Dr Aafia cannot be categorically described as innocent or guilty.
Before she went missing, before the alleged shooting, Dr Aafia was on the radar as an enabler of terrorism. A UN commission described her as a member of al Qaeda, Sheikh Khalid Mohammed gave her name to the US and court records show her as the second wife of an al Qaeda member. One of her uncle’s claims to have met her when she was supposedly in detention in Afghanistan by the US during her missing year’s period. Her ex-husband rubbishes many of her claims, and the family of Dr Aafia won’t let the media speak to her children who can shed light on what really happened.
We should be spending money on her defence simply because she is a Pakistani national in trouble and convicted in a case that is doubtful. But everyone who resolutely proclaims her innocence like most of the political parties in the country do so inaccurately. To argue for due process and greater disclosure is what we ought to be doing because that is what was denied to Dr Aafia, but the evidence to suggest she was or was not a member of al Qaeda does not exist without a shadow of a doubt for both parties.
In her outbursts in court, Dr Aafia let on more than she chose to clarify. Why would she think she could make peace with the Taliban, what connections did she have with them, wasn’t she supposed to be illegally detained in a US prison in Afghanistan during that period preventing that? Or how did she know about more 9/11 type attacks?
I have a friend who works in the production unit of Pakistan’s most watched channels, and she told me an interesting anecdote that when the verdict was announced for Dr Aafia (not the sentencing which has been done separately now) the news team all thought Dr Aafia was not entirely innocent because of other facts in the case, but when they went on air they agreed to do so with the unequivocal line that she was innocent.
I imagine politicians are in the same boat, even if they have doubts, voicing that opinion is almost like a taboo. I suspect it has to do with the same line of logic that causes many to be inadvertent sympathisers of the Pakistani Taliban despite their bloody war against Pakistani citizens. Any overt sense of religious symbolism throws out rationality in a sense of what could loosely be described as “catholic guilt”.
We root for the Taliban because they supposedly lead austere lives and pray five times a day and then unforgivably forgive them for the most immoral of acts, large scale murder. To simply not entertain the idea that Dr Aafia may have been a member of al Qaeda is a reflection of the same thought process.
Dr Aafia doesn’t deserve 86 years in prison for the case in which she has been held guilty, and it’s an absolute travesty of justice that the US will not proceed to demonstrate the evidence that got her linked to terrorism. But, if the circumstantial evidence is true regarding her membership to al Qaeda, then she deserves 86 years and more. Otherwise, repatriate her and let it be.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2010.