I admit that there has been one topic I have been reluctant to write about for a year now, despite occasional prodding from the readers. When I first heard about Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s case, I immediately held an uninformed opinion; I thought she was guilty. It didn’t matter to me that she was a woman, and I felt if she had been Al Qaeda then she deserved punishment.
This gut reaction probably came from the circumstantial evidence surrounding the case, of which there is a considerable amount. So, instead of writing something that was obviously tainted with bias, I chose not to write anything. Only recently, when I was asked to an interview with an American radio station did I realise that I needed to know more than what I superficially did. While researching the case, I came across a website dedicated to Dr Aafia, and it bemoaned the lack of interest from the liberal media, of which I concede I could fall into, and in many ways that criticism is valid.
My unequivocal position has changed by looking at the facts and disputed facts of the case. I feel significant doubt regarding my earlier conclusion. That is not to say that I feel she is innocent, but I don’t think it can be said with certainty either that she is guilty.
But, perhaps most interesting is to understand why certain people have positions regarding her innocence or guilt (myself included). My initial beliefs are probably rooted in reactionary thinking against certain groups and how they champion her cause.
For those individuals, it does not matter whether she may or not be guilty. They feel affronted that a Pakistani sister, mother, daughter and wife has been given up on. Being an accomplice to terrorism as a part of Al Qaeda doesn’t matter to them, even if it turns out to be true. All that matters is that she is being tried by the US and her case has been subsumed by nationalism. Her missing children have also struck a raw nerve, leading many to cite it as an example of the US’ barbarity behind its civil cloak. However, few are willing to admit that she willfully neglected her duties towards her children by endangering them.
In general, this utter unwillingness to address possible guilt turns me off. They want to influence the legal system but do not believe in it, simply because a fair and negative verdict will never be accepted by them. But frankly, the judgment against Dr Aaafia by the US court doesn’t appear to be fair. And this is why despite these caveats of intention those who doubt her guilt have a strong case, too. The story of how she was nabbed in Afghanistan appears unlikely. From being behind a curtain, stealing a weapon placed at the foot of a soldier and then being shot in retaliation when they knew she was there is a weird accumulation of circumstances. Then, of course, getting tried and being found guilty for it rather than the allegations of involvement in terrorism is another. On top of it a Pakistani citizen who could possibly have been in illegal detention in Afghanistan by the US supposedly commits a crime in Afghanistan and is then tried in the US for an incident which is not what she was initially wanted for?
There is also the possibility that she is not mentally fit to understand what is going on around her. Her recent photos speak of tragedy and hardship. Plus, she happens to be described as some sort of brilliant scientist at the disposal of Al Qaeda by the western media, whereas her research for her PhD was anything but something that could be used for terrorism (she contributed to the theory that man learns by imitation).
With all this in mind, it’s good that the government of Pakistan spent money on her defence. She is someone who very likely could have been handed over to the Americans in violation of all our laws if she was truly in captivity all this time. Her case is worth pursuing because it is not an open-and-shut one that the courts in the US have decided against her.
Despite all of this, there are still some troubling issues. She isn’t someone randomly picked up in a massive miscarriage of justice; she was on the radar of the US as early as 2002. In addition, even a UN Commission alleges that she was a member of Al Qaeda. Apparently it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad who gave up her name in 2003 when he was arrested – that of course cannot be verified thanks to the illegal detention center that Guantanamo is.
The court record says that her lawyer confirmed her second marriage to a man already in custody who is supposedly an Al Qaeda operative. Her previous husband alleges that her children are not missing but actually in the custody of her sister and that she has not been detained for five years by the US before the shooting incident. Most troubling is an account of her uncle who claims to have met her in the period when her supporters allege she was in the US custody. The journalist Declan Walsh wrote a very prescient piece which noted that the key to understanding the truth would be to know where Dr Aafia was for the five “missing years” before her arrest; was she illegally and inhumanly held by the US or was she working for Al Qaeda? One person who could answer this is the son of Dr Aafia, but his testimony or presence has not been forwarded by Dr Aafia’s family in whose custody he is currently.
For either side, those who believe in her guilt and those who don’t, to say something conclusively is impossible at this stage despite their claims. Guilt needs to be established beyond reasonable doubt, but this case sets a long shadow with many unanswered questions. Her defence therefore is imperative to prevent a miscarriage of justice which has probably happened with the guilty verdict she has been handed down. Her sentencing is still left, and the inevitable appeal. But the US won’t be pressurised by a government like ours which it can easily ignore. For those campaigning for a fair shake to Dr Aafia the key will be involving the US media to give more scrutiny to a case it has largely ignored given its obsessive attention to the recession and domestic issues.
The writer is a Rhodes scholar and former academic.
Column taken from PKColumns – http://www.pkcolumns.com
URL to column: http://www.pkcolumns.com/2010/03/04/dr-aafia-did-or-didnt-by-fasi-zaka/
Thursday, March 04, 2010
“He was the last of the giants, these tough men of the desert who formed a raw nation out of a harsh environment, those visionaries who created a country that would occupy a special place in the global firmament,” says Pranay Gupte for Shaikh Mubarak bin Mohammad Al Nahyan, the father of Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the minister for higher education and scientific research for the UAE. Having had the privilege of knowing Shaikh Mubarak since 1997, I may be forgiven for dedicating this column as a tribute to this unique person who passed away on February 24.
When the rulers of the Emirates engaged in protracted talks in the 1960s to form the Union of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Shaikh Mubarak played a prominent role as the right-hand man of Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan, the then ruler of Abu Dhabi and the founder of the UAE. He held many important posts in his life such as the chief of police and public security of Abu Dhabi, and the head of the naturalisation and residency department. He was made the minister of interior of Abu Dhabi in July 1971, subsequently becoming the first federal minister of interior for the UAE, a position he served till 1990.
As interior minister, Shaikh Mubarak had the challenging task of creating an environment of security in a new union of emirates that never had a history of internal security. The experience of establishing the Abu Dhabi police stood him in good stead in bridging the differences between the police structures of the different emirates. This relationship had to have a balance in order to maintain the federal nature of the Union while enhancing the mutual coordination of the federating units with each other. Today, the sense of security that you get when you enter the Emirates is the one overriding factor that has promoted foreign investments in the region. The Emirates today is a living testimony to what this extraordinary human being achieved.
This attractive, modern metropolis not only makes sure the protection of the lives, dignity and honour of its citizens and visitors, but also gives its inhabitants a sense of well-being. It was this quiet, behind-the-scene figure who constantly gave sane advice to close friends, Shaikh Zayed and Shaikh Rashid, who are eulogised universally as the founders of the UAE, allowing the two rulers to steer a steady course for the emerging nation through extremely difficult times. Their respect for him was evident not only by the responsibilities they entrusted to him, but also to his sons. He is credited with playing a vital role in solving all the border problems among the seven entities so that travel among the emirates, by its inhabitants and visitors, could become easy. It was him who issued instructions in 1974 to lift all the procedures in the Seeh Shuaib police stations applied to cars and passengers. This move was instrumental in forging unity among the states.
The very day that Shaikh Mubarak died was symbolic of his work; 304 cadets, including five women, graduated from the Abu Dhabi Police College. Among those who graduated was a grandson of Shaikh Zayed as well. Shaikh Mubarak was keenly interested to see women playing a significant role in different fields, particularly in the field of security. In 1978 he installed a new unit of women police, later establishing a school for women police in Abu Dhabi. He was extremely enthusiastic for the consolidation and integration of the police so that one entity, the federal ministry of interior, could exercise its powers to directly supervise all the issues related to security, naturalisation and residency.
An indirect eulogy for the great man came from the top cop in the world, Ronald Noble, who is the Secretary General of INTERPOL. Visiting Dubai in connection with the recent assassination of a Hamas leader, Noble said that though he had witnessed many instances of comprehensive investigation in his present job, two among them stood out, with the recent one being the exhaustive enquiry into the murder of the Hamas leader by Dubai Police which identified over two dozen who were involved in the incident. The INTERPOL chief considered it his duty to personally condole with Shaikh Nahyan on the death of his father, the man who was the founding father of the institution of security in the Emirates, truly a great accolade for a great person. One looks forward to the day when an institution symbolising security is dedicated in the UAE to Shaikh Mubarak’s memory.
Uncle to Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al Nahyan, the present ruler of the UAE, this patriarch will be sorely missed. Shaikh Mubarak Al Nahyan leaves behind a great legacy. What his father achieved in terms of defining the concept and parameters of security in the Emirates, Shaikh Nahyan has emulated, not only in public service and in the field of higher education, but also in the field of business through enterprising ventures throughout the world. It was indeed difficult to truly appreciate the willpower that kept this frail man going after suffering from stroke in 1979. Despite his infirmity, Shaikh Mubarak always stood up during his daily majlis to personally greet each and every person who entered. It was truly amazing to see how his son, Shaikh Nahyan, looked after him all these years. Despite his busy schedule Shaikh Nahyan built his entire day around caring for his beloved father. An extraordinarily handsome figure with a dazzling smile, Shaikh Mubarak’s personal warmth was manifest in the strong handshake.
To quote Pranay Gupte, “Watching father and son together in such tenderness, it was impossible not to be moved, it was impossible not to reflect on the meaning of that most atavistic of relationships”. He further added, “A man who led a full life, a man who left many smiles over many miles, a great man who dreamed of an entire new society, and lived to see it happen during his lifetime”. This grievous loss, felt by all of us, will have far deeper effect on Shaikh Nayhan. To start with he will have to change his entire lifestyle. True to his Bedouin origin, he was stoic in his grief, meeting each and everyone individually, the sorrow deep in his eyes.
A great man has left the world’s stage and he is mourned by all who knew him and knew of him.
The writer is a director with Bank Al Falah, owned primarily by the Nahyan family, since 1997.
Email: isehgal@path finder9.com
Column taken from PKColumns – http://www.pkcolumns.com
URL to column: http://www.pkcolumns.com/2010/03/04/a-great-loss-by-ikram-sehgal/