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KARACHI: After six years of silence, Dr Muhammad Amjad Khan, ex-husband of Dr Aafia Siddiqui, has finally spoken up and says that most of the press reports that relate to his former wife as well as his children are false. In an exclusive talk with The News, he said that most claims are being propagated to garner public support and sympathy for Dr Aafia but are one-sided and in most instances untrue.
Dr Aafia Siddiqui, suspected of having links to terrorist organizations, has been charged in a criminal complaint filed in a court of New York on account of attempting to kill US personnel during interrogation and on a charge of assaulting US officers and employees in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 17, 2008. Subsequently Dr Aafia was imprisoned in Bagram for 18 days before being taken to the US for a trial.
Due to pressure from Aafia Siddiqui’s family, the Pakistan government has been trying to secure her release from the US claiming her to be innocent. Although the US government has guaranteed Aafia the best legal assistance and a fair trial, her family is adamant that she be sent back on grounds that the US authorities have been consistently torturing her for years.
“Aafia’s release cannot be secured by propagating stories based on falsehood and deception,” commented Dr Amjad Khan, in an interview with The News. Dr Amjad, who was married to Dr Aafia for seven years until their divorce in October 2002, said Aafia’s family and supporters should not believe that truth will not be revealed and mere lies will help in securing Aafia’s repatriation.
He added that he is disappointed with the government’s disregard for the law when officials handed over his eldest son, Ahmad, to his aunt Dr Fowzia Siddiqui on his return from Afghanistan last year instead of his legal guardian, his father. “The government made no effort to locate me despite the fact that I am Ahmad’s real and legal guardian. My address in Karachi has not changed for
the past 30 years. Ever since I returned from the US after our divorce, I have been living with my family,” he said adding: “Both the Minister for Interior Rehman Malik and Dr Fowzia have been taking credit for obtaining Ahmad’s release even though there was not a stone I left unturned to locate my missing children and obtain their custody according to law.”
Providing documentary proof of the legal agreement between him and Dr Aafia following their divorce, Dr Amjad said that he had been financially supporting his three children Ahmed, Marium and Suleiman until the family stopped accepting the cheques he had been mailing. “After the agreement they accepted my cheques till March 2003. After that my cheques were being returned from Aafia’s home and that got me worried. Soon after I learnt that in April 2003, Aafia and our children had been ‘picked up’ by agencies.” Meanwhile, he received disturbing reports from the family that Aafia chose to leave Karachi with her children as she feared an attack from him.
Curious to locate the whereabouts of his children, Dr Amjad sought the help of the police and government officials to find them. “I was aware of Aafia’s violent personality and extremist views and suspected her involvement in Jihadi activities. My fear later proved to be true when during Uzair Paracha’s trial in the US in 2004, the real purpose of Aafia’s trip to the US (between December 23, 2002 and January 3, 2003) was revealed.”
Elaborating, Dr Amjad disclosed that he later learnt from media reports that Aafia’s family claimed she made this trip to the US for job interviews in December at a time when universities were closed for winter holidays. “I also found it very odd that on the one hand Aafia insisted on leaving the US after September 11, 2001, claiming the country was unsafe for us and our children because the US government was abducting Muslim children, and on the other hand took the risk of travelling to that country again without fearing that she may be captured and may never see our children again.”
While Dr Aafia was in the US, the authorities had been closely watching her, added Amjad. They soon issued the first global “wanted for questioning” alert for the couple in March 2003. “At that time, the agencies did not know we were divorced and I was also unaware of Aafia’s involvement with two other terror suspects, Majid Khan and Ammar Al-Baluchi. They wanted me to persuade Aafia to appear for the interview with them and clear the charges leveled against her just as I had done. That is when she went underground and it later became apparent why she chose to ‘disappear’,” disclosed Dr Amjad.
Sharing details of his unsuccessful marriage with Dr Aafia, Dr Amjad told The News that since their marriage was arranged, he was unaware of Aafia’s violent behaviour. “She got hysterical fits when she became angry and would physically attack me, but I put up with it for the sake of our children.”
Although Amjad and Aafia both were inclined towards religion, he found her opinion towards Jihad to be of an extreme nature that sometimes made him uncomfortable. He became particularly suspicious of his wife’s intentions when soon after the 9/11 attacks, she compelled Amjad to leave Boston (where Amjad was completing his residency) and move to Afghanistan where she claimed “he would be more useful”.
The couple, however, chose to come to Pakistan instead for a vacation and discuss the matter with Amjad’s family. It was here that his parents noticed Aafia’s violent behaviour towards their son on several occasions, particularly when she openly asked for khula (divorce) when Amjad declined to go to Afghanistan. Therefore Amjad decided to file for a divorce as Aafia was adamant she wanted to go. “I tried my best to save our marriage, but divorce was inevitable,” he recalls.
However, after mutual consent, the couple signed a legal agreement whereby the custody of the three minors was given to Aafia, while Amjad was required to pay for their education and maintenance. “Although the agreement says I am permitted to meet my children once a week, I was not allowed to do so,” claimed Amjad sharing a copy of the agreement during the interview.
Based on his past experience, Amjad says he had reason to worry about his children. “I feared Aafia might pursue her political ambitions to the detriment of our children’s welfare so I couldn’t help following her case after her family claimed she had been abducted.” Amjad added that he was tempted to use other means to try and rescue his children in these past five years especially since he had evidence that were missing or kidnapped, he claimed. “But I chose to be patient and pursued the case according to the law.” He also filed a case in court against Aafia to obtain the custody of his children.
“When the Court was unsuccessful, I requested the HRCP to include my children’s names in their missing persons petition in the Supreme Court and also appealed to the Chief Justice for Suo Moto action as this was the only case where three minors were involved.”
However, after Ahmad was released and handed over to Dr Fowzia last year, Dr Amjad requested her to allow him to visit his son, but she refused. “At first she said Ahmed was mentally unfit to talk, and then claimed that he was not my son but an orphan adopted by Aafia and US reports that his DNA matched Aafia’s were also ‘cooked’. I refused to accept any of that as I had identified my son as soon as I saw a report on the electronic media of his arrest in Afghanistan.”
When questioned on what basis was Aafia’s family†denying a meeting with his son, Amjad stated that the family is punishing him for divorcing Aafia. “Aafia’s mother and Dr Fowzia had warned me at the time of our divorce that they would take revenge†by not letting me meet the children,” he said adding “But now they are discouraging a meeting with Ahmad because they fear Ahmad will reveal the truth about Aafia’s activities and whereabouts of his siblings over these years.”
He added that Dr Fowzia had similarly threatened him several years ago by taking a picture of Aafia while she was asleep after she injured her upper lip (by a milk bottle)†in an accident. Dr Fowzia warned Amjad that if he tried to divorce Aafia, she would use the picture against him alleging him to be an abusive husband. “It was made to appear in the picture that Aafia was badly injured. Today, the same picture is being circulated in the media to claim that Aafia was tortured for years in Bagram,” he revealed.†
Furthermore, Amjad listed the several allegations leveled against him over the years to justify his not meeting his children: First they accused him of kidnapping his three children soon after his divorce with Aafia. To deny this accusation, he lodged a complaint against the family with the Sindh Police and requested officials to help him locate his children, but to no avail.
Later, Aafia’s family accused him of being an abusive husband and father preventing the children from meeting their father. “Aafia’s mother has also accused me in the media of changing the children’s names whereas in reality they had resorted to these tactics to conceal the children.”
He alleged that Dr Fowzia also used the Asian Human Rights Commission, an NGO based in Honk Kong, to mislead the government about his two missing children. “The AHRC received the information about my two missing children being in an orphanage in Afghanistan from Dr Fowzia, who was diverting attention away from the place where the children really are.” claimed Amjad.
Earlier, when Aafia’s father died, the family held Amjad responsible for his death too claiming he suffered a stroke after he saw the divorce document. “That is simply not true because I mailed the document two days after Aafia’s father died and that too because I was unaware of the unfortunate incident. Their family never kept me posted on anything in the six-week period between our verbal and written divorce. I was just as shocked at his death.”
Moreover, the family alleged that Aafia was in trouble and had been kidnapped because her former husband (Dr Amjad) handed over her personal diary to the FBI. “After this, false reports about Aafia’s arrest and Pakistani government’s involvement in handing her over to the US despite repeated denials by the Minister of Interior and other officials, started making headlines” claims the doctor, who has now re-married.
It is the whereabouts of his two children ñ Marium now aged 10, and six-year-old Suleiman ñ that worries him now, said Amjad. Like the coordinates of Dr Aafia Siddiqui remained a mystery after she was allegedly ‘picked up’ in March 2003, Dr Amjad believes Aafia’s family may be using the same tactics in the case of his two children, who are reportedly ‘missing’.
“I am sure they are around Karachi and in contact with their maternal family as both Aafia and the children were seen around their house here and in Islamabad on multiple occasions since their alleged disappearance in 2003. They may be living under an assumed identity just like Aafia and Ahmed had been living [as Saliha and Ali Ahsan] for five years before they got arrested,” believes the father. He said Dr Fowzia’s claim that the children are missing after being removed from the Bagram prison in Afghanistan ‘may be an attempt to attract sympathy of the government and the people and distract its attention from the real location.’