Aafia Siddiqui vs Aasia Bibi —Aisha Sarwari

Published in The Daily Times on January 31st 2012

Given the unparalleled investment of national energy and resources in this case, it is only fair to ask why other daughters of Pakistan who languish in Pakistani jails while being routinely tortured and raped are not worthy of the same level of attention

The day Aafia Siddiqui, also known as the ‘grey lady of Bagram’, was sentenced to 86 years in prison by a US court, her mother held a press conference and said that the day marks the downfall of the US. Once affiliated with General Ziaul Haq, her mother also said that the sentence shows the true face of the US. Amidst roars from the press against the US, the press conference ended. But what did not end was a perverse need of leading political parties, including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Imran Khan from championing her cause while forgetting every other woman prisoner and victim of this society whose persecution is in our hands directly. A cause that remains largely disputed — is she the ‘Daughter of Pakistan’ or is she — as the Americans say — ‘the most wanted terrorist’?

In Pakistan you cannot get away with calling her anything other than the honour of the nation. Given the anti-Americanism in Pakistan, the fact that a Pakistani woman is in US custody conjures up an unthinkable and desperate scenario for the masses. However, no amount of dampening of critical thinking can hide the fact that Dr Aafia Siddiqui was not an ordinary woman. She was both super intelligent and possessed, which allegedly made her rise in the terrorist food chain.

Consider these facts: she studied in renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and did her PhD in neuroscience from Brandeis University. She enrolled in training to use firearms in Braintree. She is also said to be an active member of those charities that were involved in the terrorist bombing in Nairobi, Kenya. She was affiliated with terrorists while involved in the Muslim Students Association at university. She was found in possession of manuals in English and Urdu that outlined terrorist plots. Her first husband is on record as saying that she was radical and obsessed about political vengeance and jihad, and wanted to relocate to Bosnia. Her second husband is an al Qaeda member who is related to both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousaf, convicted of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre. It is said that her hatred for Jews remained with her from her college days to the days of her trial, where she claimed that the jury was Jewish and biased and had often had shouting fits in court against them. This is by any stretch of the imagination not an aspiring neuroscientist’s resume. During the years of her disappearance, Declan Walsh reported in The Guardian that she visited her uncle, Shamsul Hasan Farooqi, and asked him to take her to the Taliban, and said, “I will be safe with the Taliban.”

What is appalling is not the fact that there is sympathy for her in Pakistan but that our sympathy is selective. Our charismatic Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, said on Twitter that she will be meeting Dr Siddiqui’s lawyer “to see that she [Aafia] gets her entitlements. All Pakistani citizens are our responsibility”.

Given the unparalleled investment of national energy and resources in this case, it is only fair to ask why other daughters of Pakistan who languish in Pakistani jails while being routinely tortured and raped are not worthy of the same level of attention.

According to a survey, in Punjab alone nearly 78 percent of women prisoners complained of maltreatment in police custody and 72 percent claimed sexual abuse. Furthermore, Aasia Bibi’s case is one that shows a shameful public reaction, where there is absolutely no sympathy for a woman who was wrongfully condemned under the blasphemy laws, for which Salmaan Taseer had to end up being murdered, and the person who accused her recently admitted that he had made up the claim. Why is anyone not out on the street on Mother’s Day to show solidarity with Aasia Bibi’s children who are away from their mother, like they do for Dr Siddiqui’s children?

Aafia Siddiqui has an infinitely better deal than Aasia Bibi. If Aafia Siddiqui was wrongfully accused, then at least there is a justice system that ensures that she will be fairly treated. She is also the symbol of our honour and our dignity championed by Pakistan’s great hope, Imran Khan. What about Aasia? She is a non-Muslim in a society that considers non-Muslims as less than human. She is accused of a crime — not said to be falsely accused — for which the law, as designed by General Zia, affords no due process. And finally, while Aasia lives under constant fear of being killed in jail by some fanatic looking for a shortcut to paradise, at least Aafia Siddiqui will not be harmed in jail and live out her life in perfectly safe conditions.

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