Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s case and Pakistani media’s hysteria – by Farhat Taj

Caravans and howling of stray animals — Farhat Taj

The media in Pakistan is constantly promoting a one-sided view of Dr Aafia’s case. Nobody is expecting 100 percent objectivity from the media. But still one is surprised how some of the most important issues in this case have never been touched upon by the Pakistani media

Pakistani neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui was convicted on February 4 by a US court for shooting at her US interrogators in Afghanistan. The jury gave a unanimous verdict on seven counts, including attempted murder and assault. A high profile campaign, run by pro-Taliban religious and political forces like the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and fully supported by the media, especially the Urdu media in Pakistan, had been launched for her release and repatriation to Pakistan before the jury’s verdict. The campaign is being driven even more forcefully after the verdict. Dr Aafia has an absolute right to a fair trial and a campaign in this regard, whether in the US or in Pakistan, supported by all who care for human rights. But the way the campaign is being run for Dr Aafia’s release hints at the ulterior motives of those who are running it. The campaign is questionable for two reasons.

One, the media in Pakistan is constantly promoting a one-sided view of her case. Nobody is expecting 100 percent objectivity from the media. But still one is surprised how some of the most important issues in this case have never been touched upon by the Pakistani media. The media never probed into the issue of her missing children. If Aafia’s family truly believes that either the Pakistani or the American intelligence agencies are holding them or they have been killed in their custody, why does the media not ask them to bring a lawsuit for that in the US or Pakistan? Dr Aafia’s minor daughter, Mariam, is a US citizen. If the US intelligence agencies or military were to kidnap a minor US citizen, it would be a crime in that country. Why does Dr Fowzia — Dr Aafia’s sister — not lead a campaign for her release in Pakistan, stand up in the US Senate and appeal for help in finding Aafia’s missing children?

Moreover, the Supreme Court is pursuing the high profile cases of missing persons in Pakistan. Why have Dr Aafia’s mother and sister not filed a suit for the recovery of the missing children? Instead, the family says nothing. If they really believe the children are missing, then why not?

Deborah Scroggins is an American journalist who is writing a book that is partially about Dr Aafia. She made some inquiries about Dr Aafia’s past for her book through interviews in Boston. She found out that Aafia was well known in Boston as a tireless advocate of jihad. She raised money for Al Kifah, Benevolence International Foundation, Global Relief Foundation and various other organisations later designated as funders of terrorism. Moreover, Scroggins informs that Dr Aafia also left a paper trail in the form of e-mails and various other documents, some of which came out in other terrorism cases, such as the 2005 Uzair Paracha case and the Care International case in Boston.

Scoggins’ findings have been reinforced by a Pakistani blog, Counter Terrorism, Imperialism, Extremism and Bigotry. Anas Abbas writes that Aafia and her husband have been involved in transferring large sums of money to mysterious accounts of Saudi nationals and buying night goggles, body armour and military manuals. Why has the Pakistani media not gone to the US to interview Dr Aafia’s former neighbours, colleagues, bank officials, journalists, etc., about these aspects of her case? Pakistani viewership deserves a media inquiry into these issues.

The Pakistani media has reported again and again that there was no evidence against Aafia presented at her trial, thus leading viewers to conclude that the jury based its decision solely on prejudice. That is far from the truth. The prosecution (and defence) came out with loads of documents in the case. It is true that the prosecution found no physical evidence (no fingerprints, no bullet shells) to prove that she had ever fired the gun. However, they also produced expert witnesses who testified that it was not unusual and that fingerprints are only found on guns 10 percent of the time. The prosecutor caught her red-handed in an obvious lie. She claimed she did not know anything about guns. The prosecutor is said to have produced a man who said he had taught her a gun course in 1993.

I do not mean to say that all that the prosecution said is the truth. All I mean is that the Pakistani media failed to inform the Pakistani public about some of the important issues that the prosecution has been drawing upon.

One of the amazing things about the campaign for her release is that out of all the possible stories of injustice in Pakistan, hers should be the one that the pro-Taliban forces and the media would take up so passionately. The forces running the campaign for Dr Aafia never took up the cause of those who suffer gross human rights violation at the hands of the Taliban, the officers of the Pakistan Army and the state authorities of the countries that sponsor terrorism in Pakistan through donations, particularly the Gulf States.

Tens of Pakistanis are treated like pigs and dogs in jails in Saudi Arabia. Zarina Marri, a female Baloch nationalist was allegedly abducted by Pakistani officers and continues to suffer torture in their custody. Dr Shazia Khalid, a medical doctor and an employee of Pakistan Petroleum Limited, was brutally assaulted by an army officer named Captain Hammad at Sui Hospital in 2005. Her life was threatened and she fled Pakistan. The Taliban killed two schoolteachers in Bajaur, the breadwinners of their families, because they could not give up their jobs due to economic compulsions. The Taliban attacked the Tank-based family of the Political Agent Khyber and killed 13 people in his family. One of his female relatives held out the Quran and pleaded with the Taliban to spare her family members. The Taliban killed her and also fired at the Quran. They also killed a 6-year old minor girl in the family who was sleeping when fired upon. Unlike Dr Aafia’s case, neither the media nor the pro-Taliban religious and political forces ever took up their cases.

Their hysteria on Dr Aafia’s issue is also strange due to the fact that women’s rights had never been high on the agenda of the above-mentioned forces. Why are then they speaking so loudly for Dr Aafia? The blogger, Anas Abbas, has rightly identified the reason, which “…is not that Pakistanis genuinely care about Aafia or any other woman for that matter…they [those campaigning for Aafia] are simply exploiting this case to express their political hatred against the US.”

Moreover, the drivers of Dr Aafia’s campaign are also promoting their pro-Taliban agenda by creating public hatred against Pakistan’s participation in the war on terror. It is pertinent to mention that the Taliban have already threatened to kill Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier, in their captivity if Dr Aafia is not released.

In our Pashto language there is a saying that fits well in this situation: “When the caravans pass by, stray animals howl along.” For the caravans of countless Pakistanis who suffer at hands of the Taliban and the state authorities in Pakistan or in the Gulf countries, the hysteria created by the media and pro-Taliban forces in the name of Dr Aafia is nothing more than the howling of stray animals.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at bergen34@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times

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