The Aafia Siddiqi related hostage drama: What it really means

​The state can generally not be held responsible for the actions of individuals from a purely legal perspective. But in Pakistan’s case, the decades of efforts of the state to build a society centered on a religio-political identity beg the question of accountability of the state for the actions of those inspired by its regressive narratives. In this day and age of social media, barring a small section of the educated elite, the bulk of the population with its abysmally poor quality or education, is unable to distinguish between action that is perceived as desirable within the vision of a puritanical state and one action actually permitted within its codified laws. The state’s exploitation of what is largely understood as political Islam, therefore, has a direct bearing on the actions of individuals both within the territory of Pakistan and outside. The best understood example is the abuse of Blasphemy Laws by religious zealots to make a mockery of the Pakistan’s professed non-discriminatory treatment of religious minorities.

​A disturbing proportion of organized and lone-wolf attacks worldwide show an uncanny connection with Pakistan. The New York, London and Mumbai attacks stand out due to their audacity but in US alone, radicalized Pakistanis have been involved in several noteworthy attacks. These include: killing of 2 CIA employees by Pak national Mir Aimal Kansi on Jan. 25, 1993; the Seattle Jewish Federation shooting of 6 women, killing one, by Pak origin man Naveed Afzal Haq on Jul. 28, 2006; killing of 14 people in a mass shooting at San Bernardino, California by Rizwan Farook, born of Pak parents, and Tashfeen Malik, Pak born, on Dec. 2, 2015; and serial bombings in New York and New Jersey injuring 29 on Sept. 17-19, 2016 by Afghan origin Ahmad Khan Rahami who had visited Pakistan and married a Pak woman. The failed Times Square bombing on May 1, 2010 by a Pak national Faisal Shahzad is perhaps the most chilling of all the attacks as it could have killed scores. Not surprisingly, Shahzad had trained in a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.

​The world has occasionally taken notice of the Pakistani state’s responsibility in fueling religious extremism. Less than a year ago, the European Parliament passed a near unanimous resolution seeking sanctions against Pakistan for the abuse of its infamous Blasphemy Laws. The resolution, which was opposed only by three MEPs, demonstrated that the West’s perception of Pakistan was unambiguous and held the state responsible of some of the actions of its citizens.

Masquerading as the champion of Muslims worldwide, Islamabad’s sanctimonious, high-pitched campaign against so-called Islamophobia has probably caused more harm than good to innocent Muslims as the world itself is getting increasingly polarized on matters of faith. The violence unleashed by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan on the streets over a ridiculous demand to sever diplomatic ties with Paris is perhaps the most telling example of the outcome of the state’s narrow minded policies. The lynching of a Sri Lankan national at the hands of an outraged mob in Sialkot was merely an extension of the same phenomenon. The campaign against French President Macron for his supposedly blasphemous comments against the Holy Prophet was led by none other than Prime Minister Imran Khan himself. Had he been a little more erudite, Imran would have known that some of the most irreverent criticism of Christianity originates and is tolerated in the Christian world.

Aafia Siddiqi, a Pakistani neuroscientist educated in MIT and suspected Al-Qaeda terrorist, was arrested from Afghanistan in 2008 and extradited to the US where she was sentenced to 86 years in prison for an attempt to kill US servicemen. Her case is one of the most worrisome for it demonstrates the propensity of even highly educated youth to get carried away by the unceasing propaganda about the perceived organized persecution of Muslims. There has been an incessant demand on the government of Pakistan by the country’s religious parties/groups to get Aafia Siddiqi back to Pakistan. In July 2019, during his visit to Washington, Imran Khan had offered to exchange Aafia for Dr. Shakeel Afridi, the CIA’s asset imprisoned in Pakistan for divulging the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. Imran’s SAPM Babar Awan had termed the imprisonment of Aafia a “human rights violation” while assuring (Nov. 2020) her sister about Imran Khan’s personal efforts to secure her release. The Pak Senate had even passed a Resolution in Nov. 2018 demanding the repatriation of Aafia, calling her a “daughter of the nation”.

At a time when the rest of the world is struggling with the challenge of de-radicalization, we have a government which goes out of its way to champion the cause of extremist elements unmindful of even jurisdiction. The prime minister of the state has unabashedly called Osama Bin Laden a “martyr” in Parliament and has refused to even admit that it was a slip of tongue. Should we be surprised that radicalized elements worldwide find succor in and take their cues from such a regime? As the hostage taker in Texas demanding release of Aafia demonstrated, if the entire state machinery can devote itself to her release instead of spurning terrorism in all forms, why can’t her millions of brothers and sisters put in their own bit!

Unless the Pakistani state is held accountable for fomenting extremism and terrorism worldwide, innocent people throughout the world will continue to pay the price for such blatant encouragement to Islamic extremism. The international terrorism financing and money laundering watchdog FATF has kept Pakistan on its “Grey List” since 2018 in an obvious effort to force the country to mend its ways. However, instead of making any fundamental change in its strategy of using terrorism for political objectives, Islamabad has complied in a perfunctory manner to the FATF’s requirements. Its prosecution regime has repeatedly failed to convince its own judiciary against some of the most dreaded terrorists resulting in overturning by the higher judiciary of hastily obtained convictions in “special” courts to fool the FATF. Be it in the case of killers of Daniel Pearl or, more recently, Lashkar-e-Toiba accused Abdul Rehman Makki, the High Courts of Sindh and Lahore, respectively, found the prosecution’s cases obviously shoddy. It is up to the FATF to decide whether these have been deliberately left shoddy or the prosecution regime still does not meet the standards expected by the august body. Either way, delisting of Pakistan prematurely will make the world less safe.

About the Author
Fabien Baussart is the President of CPFA (Center of Political and Foreign Affairs)
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