There is no way Dr Aafia Siddiqui can be legally repatriated to Pakistan once she has been “kidnapped” and whisked away to the US by the American CIA and military authorities.
These views were expressed by Sarah Flounders, president of the International Action Centre at New York and international human rights activist, while addressing the media at the Karachi Press Club on Monday afternoon.
Nothing could get her out of the prison system of the US as legally all avenues are barred, and the way democratic rights and civil liberties had been constricted after 9/11 made that impossible, she said.
“The only hope is untiring efforts by the Government of Pakistan to work for an exchange of prisoners. For that a major duty now rests on the shoulders of the Pakistan government.”
Flounders said many suggestions had been made in this regard, which included: i) adoption of a multilateral international prisoners’ transfer treaty; ii) a bilateral agreement for the exchange of prisoners; and iii) direct parleys on an issue between the two governments concerned.
As for exchange of prisoners, she said that this was common between the US and the erstwhile USSR during the Cold War era.
Quoting from the brief prepared by Dr Siddiqui’s attorney, Tina Foster, Flounders said that it was mystifying that the Pakistan government never availed of any of these opportunities to act.
Delving deeper into the tragic episode, Flounders said that Dr Siddiqui was kept in strict isolation, was constantly being subjected to strip searches, and visitors to the courtroom were subjected to the most punitive of security measures like photo IDs, home addresses and telephone numbers. The role of the press in the US, she said, was “just to grab the headlines”.
In the US, she said the press was used just to justify wars and “we’re ashamed of it”. The US empire, she said, apologised to none, no matter how grave the crime. Yet the fact that it had apologised to Pakistan for the Salala raid showed a glimmer of hope, she added.
She said that this was opportune moment for Pakistan to take up the issue in right earnest but then again wondered why the Pakistan government was going about the whole matter in such a lackadaisical manner.
Another American human rights activist and six-time elected Democratic Congresswoman, Cynthia McKenny, said: “How could the US, a country priding itself on democracy and human rights violate international law so brazenly in the case of Dr Aafia Siddiqui?”
She said real untoward things had happened and now it was not the US that it was in the context of Malcom X, Dr Martin Luther King Jr., and the genuine civil rights movement of yesteryear.
The year 2001, she said, was the year of the Durban conference on racism when all the countries expressed their abhorrence for racism. Then, she said, came 9/11 and things took an about-turn with Muslims and immigrants in the US coming under attack.
Today the state of democracy and human rights in the US was very different, she said. However, she made it clear that this was not to suggest that 9/11 was manipulated to neutralide the strong opposition to racism by the Durban moot.
Underscoring the role of violence in US politics, she said the US became a superpower by grabbing the land from the original inhabitants, the real owners of America, the Red Indians, letting loose a genocide against them, and importing immigrants. The US, she said, was founded on others’ land.
McKenny said she received an email from an Afro–American who witnessed the travesty in the courtroom during Dr Siddiqui’s trial and said, “Where are the Muslim men in America?” She said it was this email that had induced her to come to Pakistan.
Now, however, she said, the ball was in the court of the Pakistan government because after Obama’s re-election a change of attitudes appeared on the horizon with US-Pakistan ties undergoing an apparent thaw. As such, she said that Pakistan must grab the opportunity.
Dr Fauzia Siddiqui, Aafia’s sister, also lamented the indifferent attitude of the government of Pakistan in pursuing a case where one of its own citizens was involved which made the government morally bound to work hammer and tongs for Aafia’s release. She felt that the political will was just not there. Otherwise, she said, there was a multilateral treaty on offenders to which the US was a signatory.
Then, she said there was the internationally accepted exchange of prisoners and while releasing Raymond Davis, Pakistan could have insisted on the release of Dr Aafia in return. However, she regretted, Pakistan just let that opportunity slip most apathetically by and wondered why.