No Comparison between Aafia and Shakeel Cases
By Sajjad Shaukat
Since the present government of Pakistan has started its move to exchange Dr. Aafia Siddiqui with Dr. Shakeel Afridi, some high officials and leaders of the ruling party have been appreciating this illogical decision. Otherwise, no comparison can be made between the cases of Aafia and Shakeel, which are quite different from each other.
Dr Afridi was arrested after US troops captured and killed the Al Qaeda leader bin Laden by violating the sovereignty of Pakistan in May 2011. Shakeel Afridi was sentenced 33 years imprisonment by orders of the Assistant Political Agent Bara on May 23, 2012 in accordance with the provision of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The punishment was based on his involvement in fake polio campaign in collusion with US forces and CIA in hunting Osama bin Laden and his close association with the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Islam led by Mangal Bagh. In this regard, solid evidence was produced by the Joint Investigation Team before the court.
Despite the fact that it was proved that Dr Shakeel Afridi was CIA agent, but the US top officials and law makers left no stone unturned in pressurizing Pakistan to release him. In this connection, on May 24, 2012, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned his imprisonment as “unjust and unwarranted” for helping CIA in the killing of Osama. She continued duress on Islamabad for the release of Dr. Afridi.
In this respect, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland had stated that there was no basis for the imprisonment of Dr. Shakeel Afridi. US Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who had also prepared a resolution by favouring the separation of Balochistan province, called Afridi’s legal punishment as a decisive proof that Pakistan “sees itself as being at war with the US.” In their joint statement, two key US senators Carl Levin and John McCain had said that Afridi’s sentence was shocking and outrageous; insisting upon Islamabad to pardon Dr. Afridi through warning, otherwise, the decision could put American aid to Pakistan at risk. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta had stated: “It is so disturbing that they would sentence this doctor to 33 years for helping in the search for the most notorious terrorist of our time”.
On the other side, the case of a US-trained Pakistani neuroscientist, Dr Aafia Siddiqui is quite different from that of Dr Shakeel Afridi. In September 2010, a federal court in New York sentenced Dr. Aafia to 86 years of imprisonment for shooting at the US soldiers in Afghanistan. Siddiqui was arrested in July 2008 by the Afghan police and handed over to FBI and American forces. She did not shoot anyone, though she was tortured by the US armed personal and shot at point blank range. The critically injured Pakistani Aafia was then extradited to US for a trial.
Without any evidence, the FBI accused Dr. Aafia of supporting Al Qaeda, and she was not charged with terrorism. Aafia’s family in Karachi pointed out that the US justice system is biased against Muslims. Aafia’s sister Dr. Fouzia remarked, “This is the beginning of the greatest travesty of justice,” and Aafia has targeted by the US soldiers so mercilessly that she was in very critical condition. Fauzia furher added that Aafia was being forced to make incorrect statements and it was evident (in published photographs) that she had been tortured.
Dr. Aafia’s lawyers argued in court papers that their client’s outburst inside a cramped Afghan outpost was a spontaneous “freak out,” born of mental illness not militancy. While Aafia stated, “I do not want any bloodshed. I do not want any misunderstanding. I really want to make peace and end the wars.”
Nevertheless, according to many international lawyers, the hearing of the US court was judged to be illegal and out of US jurisdiction.
Earlier protesters took to the streets across Pakistan after the sentence of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, lighting fires and chanting anti-American slogans. The Jamaat-e-Islami religious party announced a national strike. In Karachi, several persons of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its allied youth group, Pasban, gathered outside the Press Club carrying pictures of Siddiqui and chanting slogans against the US government and justice system—“Free Aafia,” “We want Aafia, not dollars” the activists chanted, a reference to US aid funds.
The then opposition leader Nawaz Sharif had remarked that he was “saddened” by the sentence, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of Punjab province, called the sentence a “crime against humanity.”
However, demands were made by all the segments of society in wake of rallies, demonstrations for the release of Dr. Aafia who was innocent.
Although Aafia must be set free, yet the present government is likely to give a blow to the national dignity and honour of the country by following shocking way in this respect.
In this context, in August, this year, the Federal Cabinet gave approval for signing the ‘Council of Europe’s Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.’ This could pave the way for repatriation of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The cabinet was apprised that Pakistani nationals sentenced by US courts could not be brought home due to absence of any bilateral agreement or any convention signed between the two countries. Under US law, a person sentenced under federal law may only be repatriated or transferred to country of origin if the country in question is a signatory to a prisoner transfer treaty to which the US is also a signatory.
Certain quarters, especially of the government high officials suggest that Aafia Siddiqui be exchanged with Shakeel Afridi. Meanwhile, Commissioner FCR overturned jail sentence of Shakeel Afridi just a day after the cabinet decision to sign the extradition treaty with US. It is most disturbing for people that their rulers were considering exchange of Aafia with Afridi under US pressure. Such a decision would certainly further damage the reputation and credibility of Pakistan. In fact, in order to maintain respect and honour of the country and the entire nation, many more individuals like Aafia Siddiqui could be sacrificed. So, the exchange of Aafia Siddiqui with Shakeel Afridi who brought embarrassment, dishonour and disrespect for the nation is not only regrettable, but should also be condemned by the general masses and our media. Pakistan’s honour and respect come first and individuals keep offering sacrifices for their country.
On the other hand, US Administration has also prepared ground for the release of Aafia Siddiqui so that Shakeel Afridi can be set free. As already mentioned that, a person sentenced, under US federal law may only be repatriated or transferred to country of origin if the country in question is a signatory to a prisoner transfer treaty to which the United States is also a signatory. However, this fact indicates that these moves are taking place with the secret deal of Pak-US governments.
Pakistan Government needs to understand that under no circumstances, Dr Aafia must be exchanged with Dr. Shakeel who is not American citizen, and who is traitor to Pakistan. Therefore, he must undergo a fair retrial due to his contemptible role in Osama bin Laden’s episode, which brought embarrassment and disgrace to Pakistan. No doubt, Shakeel Afridi who sold himself for dollars and had concealed facts from Pakistan and its institution was an arch agent of CIA.
In this context, other political and religious parties, especially media must educate people about the damage done to the state of Pakistan by Afridi’s fake polio campaign, suggesting to the government to refrain from exchanging Aafia with Shakeel Afridi. In this regard, US duress must be resisted and Shakeel Afridi should not be extradited to America.
Besides, the US administration is not justified in seeking Dr. Afridi’s release, but by this move; it seeks to encourage other US citizens and those Pakistanis who are vulnerable to work for CIA. By setting aside solid evidence against Shakeel Afridi, American government also wants to prove that it protects CIA agents; even then they are citizens of other countries.
Nonetheless, no comparison can be made between the cases of Dr. Aafia and Dr. Shakeel. Dr. Aafia is a national hero for Pakistan, while Dr. Shakeel brought shame to the country.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power