The country’s leaders were quick to show their outrage at the sentence handed down to a Pakistani woman convicted of attacking U.S. agents, as were opposition politicians.
The sentencing of Aafia Siddique to 86 years in an American jail left enemies and political opponents reading from the same script Friday, riding a wave of anger on behalf of a woman widely believed to be an innocent victim of a vengeful, post 9/11 American justice system.
At least 5,000 people attended the largest, and most peaceful, rally in Peshawar, where a mostly male crowd cried anti-American and jihadi slogans. In Karachi, police fired tear gas to disburse rock-throwing protesters trying to march to the U.S. Consulate. At least five people were arrested. In Islamabad, 100 people attempting to reach the U.S. Embassy scuffled with police near a five-star hotel, witnesses said.
The reaction was a reminder of the deep mistrust many Pakistanis have of the United States nine years after the two countries formed an uncomfortable alliance in the wake of the September 11 attacks. While Washington tries to impress on the country it is a long-term partner, many Pakistanis persist on seeing it as a threat.
Siddique, a 38-year-old American-educated neuroscientist, was detained in Afghanistan in 2008 by Afghan authorities. She was convicted of seizing an M4 rifle weapon from one of her U.S. interrogators there and attempting to kill them. She was severely wounded in the incidents.
Siddique and her defense lawyers deny she ever fired a weapon. Her family and supporters say she disappeared along with her three children five years before she turned up in Afghanistan and allege she was either held in a secret jail by American authorities or Pakistan’s spy agency.
U.S. and Pakistani officials have denied that, and there has been little evidence to support their claims. But they have been repeated so often they are taken as the standard version by many of her supporters and much of the media, which has largely rallied in her defense.
The claims of secret detention have resonance because Pakistani security forces have rounded up many terror suspects and handed them over to the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. Under a military ruler at the time, its government has never admitted how many people it arrested at the behest of Washington.
Such is the perceived force of public opinion, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other leading officials have had to stress their efforts over the last three years to try and get her back to Pakistan. The government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to give her quality legal representation in New York.
There is little the government can do to get bring Siddique home. Islamabad has no agreement with the United States that allows Pakistanis convicted of crimes there to serve part of their sentences at home. A presidential pardon for Siddique looks very unlikely.
Before her arrest in Afghanistan, Siddique had been accused by the U.S. of links to al-Qaida. Prosecutors said they found her carrying notes referencing a “mass casualty attack” on New York City landmarks and a stash of sodium cyanide. But she was only ever tried in relation to the attack on her captors in Afghanistan.
Her loudest supporters have been Pakistan’s Islamist political parties and groups, which have embraced the opportunity to be seen defending a Pakistan Muslim woman as well as accusing the government of collaborating in her arrest and trial. The Pakistani Taliban, which is waging war against the Pakistani government and has killed scores of innocent men, women and children in bombings over the last three years, also spoke out in support of Aafia.
Pakistanis are now calling Siddique, “the daughter of the nation.”
Douglas McNabb and other members of the firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, Interpol Litigation, International Extradition and OFAC Litigation.
The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at one of the offices listed above.