Thursday, February 18, 2010
Pakistan: Anti-US Sentiment Over Siddiqui's Case
Lawyers chant anti-U.S slogans during a protest to show solidarity with Aafia Siddiqui, in Karachi. (Reuters Photo)
gather at a protest to show their solidarity with Aafia at the Pakistan-Afghan border town of Chaman. (Reuters Photo)
ORIGINALLY Posted in Islam Online dot net
Wed. Feb. 17, 2010
Politics in depth > Asia > Politics & Economy
Pakistan: Anti-US Sentiment Over Siddiqui's Case
Shockwaves of US Verdict Against Dr. Affia Siddiqui
By Aamir Latif
Journalist and Writer - Pakistan
A US court verdict convicting Dr. Aafia Siddiqui for trying to kill American servicemen in war-hacked Afghanistan has not merely fanned anti-American sentiments, but has literally washed away the Obama administration's efforts in improving the superpower's image.
Countrywide protest demonstrations were instantly sparked by the US court's announcement. Participants included not only political and religious activists, but also huge numbers of common Pakistanis whom otherwise hardly attend any rally or demonstration that shows the gravity of public anger.
This unprecedented reaction to the US court verdict compelled the President Asif Ali Zardari-led coalition government, a close ally of America in the so-called war on terror, to openly express its disappointment over the verdict and announce to provide financial and legal help to Aafia's family, which plans to challenge the judgment.
Aafia, who is mistakenly dubbed a neuroscientist while she actually holds a PhD in education from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has appeared to be a new symbol of anti-US struggle in Pakistan after this verdict.
Dr. Fozia, the elder sister of Aafia, who has been championing a campaign for release of her sister, is currently addressing large public rallies all over Pakistan, and, with every passing day, her emotional speeches compounded with tears in her eyes fueled anti-Us sentiments.
Religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), which have traditionally been against the US foreign policy, have denounced the verdict.
Even Secularists Disprove
Anti-Taliban, Urdu and English dailies dubbed the verdict a "Murder of Justice."
The verdict also prompted left-wing secular parties to react, because of the immense public pressure that, for the first time, deprives America from its historical supporters, i.e., secular parties.
The major impact of the verdict is seen in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) — which borders war-stricken Afghanistan and is the epicenter of the ongoing military operations against Taliban and their allying militant groups — As well as the southern port city of Karachi — the hometown of Aafia and stronghold of the pro-American Muttehida Quami Movement (MQM), an ethnic party that represents Mohajirs (i.e., emigrants) who emigrated from India in 1947 at the time of division of the sub-continent.
Thousands of people joined rallies and demonstrations to protest, within an hour after the verdict was announced. This overwhelming reaction forced the MQM, which otherwise never spoke a single word in favor of Aafia and tacitly supported drone attacks and US invasion of Afghanistan, to send its high-level delegation to meet Aafia's ailing mother Ismat to show solidarity with her and condemn the verdict.
Apart from opposition parties, which understandably criticized the US and Pakistani governments, the coalition partners too added to the growing chorus of criticism against the verdict, compelling the government to stand in line with the public opinion. Pakistan's secular media too came hard on the US judicial system. Various anti-Taliban Urdu and English dailies dubbed the verdict a "Murder of Justice."
They have joined hands with right-wing and anti-US newspapers and magazines, suggesting the politically fragile Zardari government to review its cooperation with the US in the war on terror.
Shocking and Unexpected
The verdict was completely unexpected for the Pakistani government. Background interviews with high-profile foreign and interior ministry officials suggest that the President and the Prime Minister were totally shocked over the verdict as they, according to officials, were given positive signals by Obama administration.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, time and again, had told journalists that the nation would soon hear good news about Aafia as both Pakistani and US governments agreed that her release would not merely help in winning the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis infuriated over incessant drone attacks in the northern tribal belt, but will also quench the ever-increasing public pressure from Zardari government to abandon the so-called war on terror.
Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, on the floor of the National Assembly, told the parliamentarians that "Dr. Aafia would soon be with us."
Fozia too was privately and publicly assured by the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister that her sister would be with her soon as they had managed to convince the US administration about her innocence.
But the result of their back-door diplomacy to settle this issue virtually startled them. A Prime Minister House official, on the condition of anonymity, told IslamOnline.net (IOL) correspondent that he could not believe what he saw on TV for a few minutes, when the verdict was aired as breaking news.
"He [i.e., the Prime Minister] was completely shocked because he was rest assured by the Obama administration for a positive settlement of the case," the official said.
But the President's and the Prime Minister's criticism of the verdict do not satisfy Aafia's family, which blame their own government, accusing it of failing to defend its own citizens.
Fozia clearly says that if the government had been serious, her sister would have been released. She, very rightly, demands some actions rather than verbal pressure on the US government.
"If Pakistan today stops supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan, my sister will be with us within the next three days," an emotionally charged Fozia told IOL.
Analysts think that the verdict has not only damaged the US's proposed plans to win the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis, but has also damaged the already shaken credibility of its pro-Zardari government.
Analysts believe that a verdict in favor of Aafia would have yielded much better results in promoting America's image.
According to them, it will not be a walk in the park for Zardari government to entertain further US demands vis-à-vis war on terror.
"I don't know what the US has achieved on the internal front, but what I know is that this [verdict] has badly damaged the credibility of Zardari government, which had been trying to convince the opposition parties and the common Pakistanis that Obama regime is much different than Bush regime," Abdul-Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political observer opines.
The government has already been under pressure due to the increasing drone attacks in troubled South and North Waziristan and the presence of notorious Blackwater (now Xe Services) agents, who are involved in kidnapping and torturing Pakistani citizens in the name of operations against suspected Taliban, Ali observes. "And this [verdict] has added to its hardships to a great extent."
Analysts believe that a verdict in favor of Aafia would have yielded much better results in promoting America's image as compared to so-called investment and assistance in media, education, and military sectors.
"A few [Pakistanis] know about US investment and assistance in different development sectors, but everyone knows and feels the humiliation meted out on Aafia first in the US custody and then in the court," Ali maintained.
The controversial US court verdict is seen as a boost for the Taliban, who are trying to exploit that in their favor.
Pakistani tribespeople gather at a protest to show their solidarity with Aafia at the Pakistan-Afghan border town of Chaman. (Reuters Photo)
The Afghan Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has already threatened that all the US hostages in their custody would be killed if Aafia was not released. Similar statements have been issued by different Pakistani Taliban groups dubbing the verdict an "Attack on the respect of Pakistanis" and "humiliation of the daughter of Pakistan at the hands of Americans in connivance with Pakistani government," in a bid to invoke public sympathies and justify their attacks on US and Pakistani security forces.
Security experts agree that the Taliban have been exploiting anti-US sentiments and the revenge factor for recruiting soldiers and suicide bombers. The ongoing spate of drone attacks, which killed by far mostly civilians, has made the task easier for the Taliban.
According to official statistics issued by the Pentagon and Pakistani intelligence agencies, over 1200 tribesmen and 16 Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in over 70 drone attacks during the last one and half years.
A recent wave of suicide attacks and bombings of public places and security installations in various parts of the country, had shifted the public anger towards the Taliban, who have been grappling with full-scale military operations in Swat and South Waziristan, but this "untimely and uncalled justice" may turn the winds in favor of anti-US forces, no matter they are political parties or Taliban groups.
Aafia's trial has given a fresh opportunity to Taliban, who have desperately been waiting for an atmosphere where they could exploit the anti-US sentiments in their favor, whereas, Obama administration has lost a golden chance to coax angry Pakistanis.
Aamir Latif is a Pakistani writer and journalist. He is also IslamOnline.net correspondent in Pakistan.
Find Other articles by Aamir Latif at US NEWS dot com here
Members of an NGO protest to show solidarity with Aafia Siddiqui during a demonstration in Karachi.(Reuters Photo)
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comforts her nephew-Afia's Son- after being held by US authorities, September 15, 2008 (Reuters Photo)
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