In Pakistan, 'Lady Al-Qaida' Is A Cause Celebre
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
Let's get a Pakistani perspective on this from Fasi Zaka. He's a columnist for the Friday Times, which is an independent news weekly in Pakistan. Welcome back to the program.
FASI ZAKA: Thank you very much for having me.
INSKEEP: What was Aafia Siddiqui's life like before the events of the last several years?
ZAKA: And the accusation is that even though while she's been held for alleged crimes, it seems that the children have paid for it as well.
INSKEEP: It sounds like when the Pakistani media described this very same woman, this very same case, the assumptions are all very different.
ZAKA: And in addition, one of the main gripes in the Pakistani media seems to be is that she's been convicted for something that happened under circumstances that are not entirely clear, in Afghanistan. But the main crux of the allegations that stem, you know, five years earlier being a member of al-Qaida, running money for them with blood diamonds and a number of other things, that has not made its way to the criminal justice system.
INSKEEP: And if she was a terrorist, people are saying, why wasn't she ever really tried for charges of links to al-Qaida and so forth?
ZAKA: It seen as the U.S. system railroading someone who may be innocent in most people's eyes.
INSKEEP: Have Pakistani journalists been able to uncover any evidence suggesting that she really was snatched by the authorities at some point?
ZAKA: Not really. Actually, one of the main people who have been pushing the case is a journalist called Yvonne Ridley, who was also held by the Taliban at one point, and subsequently she converted to Islam. And she's one of the people who's been pushing this case as a miscarriage of justice. Even Pakistani journalists cannot say concretely, like, where Aafia Siddiqui was for those five years.
INSKEEP: Has the coverage of this case in Pakistan increased suspicion of the United States within Pakistan?
ZAKA: Generally yes. Legislators in Pakistan are siding with Aafia Siddiqui. In addition, the government of Pakistan has paid costs for her defense in the U.S. And even the president of Pakistan has requested that she be repatriated to Pakistan on the grounds that she is not entirely fit to stand trial and also because they suspect the case has not got merit.
INSKEEP: Is it too much to say that the differing perceptions of this case have had a poisonous effect?
ZAKA: So, it's a number of things and it culminates mostly with the drone attacks, which are extremely unpopular in Pakistan. So, I wouldn't give too much credence to this as an individual thing, but in a long series of events, yes, it is poisoning the atmosphere of cooperation between the two countries.
INSKEEP: Fasi Zaka is a columnist and also a television host of the satirical news program, "News, Views and Confused" in Pakistan. Thanks very much.
ZAKA: Thank you very much.
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