Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s sentence of 86 years of imprisonment by a US court is both shocking and surprising. It seems to be based on a bizarre story – constructed around the allegations that a woman in custody attempted to snatch a rifle from an American soldier with the intent to kill him. And this found credence and conviction with a court of law. How could there be any legal justification for such a preposterously concocted narrative?
The court ignored a vital missing ingredient in the prosecution case, namely the period between her capture from Karachi by operatives of an intelligence agency and her subsequent arrest more than a year later from central Afghanistan and paid no heed to the abuse that she was subjected to while being held in illegal detention in Bagram base by US military.
To have been held in unlawful custody, to have been subjected to physical abuse in Bagram, to have been denied facilities of self-defence for five years and to have been convicted on wholly fabricated charges is one aspect of this painful saga.
The other side of the story is equally grim and shameful. It was General Musharraf and the leaders of an elite intelligence agency who arrested Dr Siddiqui along with her small children and, having separated her from her siblings, presented her as a gift to the US military in one of the most disgraceful acts ever committed by the head of an Islamic country or by the ruler of any country. The “commando” president would later audaciously claim credit for handing over such suspects (refer to his book In the line of fire). It is this aspect that now needs to be analysed and addressed. Former President Musharraf is as guilty as the unjust criminal law system that operates in the US for the conviction of a helpless Muslim woman. Any such appraisal would require an exhaustive investigation of our state organisations and their unlimited powers to arrest, torture and at times handover suspects to foreign countries without being held to account for any of these actions.
If we had institutions like a sovereign parliament, Musharraf and those who implemented immoral and unlawful actions would have faced a rigourous process of accountability. Not only that, the parliament would have made laws that would stand in the way of any such oligarchs who consider themselves to be above the law or who could behave in such a disgraceful manner while in occupation of the highest offices in the land, and it would have the capability to enforcing its directives.
But if history is any judge this will also pass and soon we will be overtaken by other events. Long live the Islamic Republic.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2010.