Time to bring Aafia Siddiqui back

Bringing Aafia back without being able to probe the facts of her case transparently is immoral. We deserve to know!

Sameera Rashid July 23, 2013
The writer is a research analyst and a graduate of King’s College, London, in public policy

The US has shown willingness to transfer Aafia Siddiqui, serving her prison sentence in Texas, to Pakistan after the signing of a 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. 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 could be reduced. The European Convention on the transfer of Sentenced Persons also states that “each party may grant pardon, amnesty or commutation of the sentence in accordance with its Constitution or other laws”.

The Pakistani state can commute 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 US. Siddiqui’s trial has spawned a caseload of conspiracy theories; she has been accused of everything from the purchasing of diamonds in Liberia to financing the al Qaeda war to the facilitation of al Qaeda operatives in the US. She has been varyingly called the ‘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 the PML-N and the PTI, along with many right-wing parties, protested and demanded her release. Siddiqui 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 the state. Her case 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 for both groups is anti-Americanism — an opposition to the alleged US neo-imperialism and its foreign policy agenda — that they view 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, if we trace Siddiqui’s trajectory from the MIT campus to Kabul, it is riddled with internal inconsistencies, with the truth remaining hidden.

Should Pakistan sign a prisoner swap agreement with the US to transfer Siddiqui to Pakistan? Yes, she should be brought to Pakistan if the government can investigate her alleged link to suspected terrorists. Was Siddiqui facilitating al Qaeda operatives under the guise of charity work in Pakistan; where did she stay during her period of disappearance between 2003 and 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 Siddiqui to Pakistan and commutation of her sentence 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.

In short, Siddiqui should be brought back to Pakistan if we can judge the facts of her case transparently. Only the search for truth can help us 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.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2013.

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