Aafia Siddiqui: Emblem of an Uncertain Pakistan

Pakistanis are furious about western double standards – but to create change we must drop our habit of outraged victimhood

(From mustafqadri.net)

The fact that a troubled al-Qaeda sympathiser has been branded the daughter of Pakistan speaks for the madness that has engulfed our region. There is no place for sanity in the present climate of hypocrisy and outrage that stoked by American double standards.

On the streets of Karachi, Pindi and Lahore they came in their tens of thousands brandishing fists and images of Aafia Siddiqui with her sunken features and desperate expression. “Americans are dogs!” some chanted. Others preferred “Zardari is a traitor!” Before long effigies and American flags went up in flames as well.

Protesters gathered over the past two weeks to condemn the ruling by a New York court last Thursday that saw Siddiqui, a Pakistani doctor,sentenced to 86 years in prison for attempting to kill US soldiers and FBI agents in Afghanistan. Siddiqui also stands accused of raising funds for al-Qaida.

But Siddiqui has been painted as a victim owing to mysteries surrounding her sudden disappearance in 2003 along with her three young children and her visibly traumatised reappearance in 2008 amid allegations of kidnapping and rape by American captors. The whereabouts of her youngest child, eight-year-old Suleiman, remain unknown.

Political parties of every hue have jumped on the bandwagon. Even the MQM, the most staunchly anti-Islamist political party in Pakistan has demanded her extradition to Pakistan. The government – led by the Pakistan People’s party – spent $US2m on Siddiqui’s legal costs in the US.

It would be wrong, and arrogant, to dismiss the Aafia hysteria as populism alone – the anger is genuine. But to surrender to it would also be a mistake.

The anger in Pakistan over Siddiqui is about justice, or the lack of it. Everyday life in Pakistan makes a mockery of good conscience. It is impossible to be a saint here because the moral quandaries are ubiquitous, be it as you pretend to ignore the man with stumps for legs crawling across the market pavements, or you contact a cousin to facilitate a business deal. Nothing is straightforward here.

The one word used by every citizen I’ve met in Pakistan, be they in Sindh, Punjab, Pakhtunkhwa or Balochistan is insaaf, or justice. “There is no justice here,” is the most common sentence I have heard in the last four years.

Aafia reminds us that injustice is not merely a domestic malaise but a global problem. Just as each of us have our local and national masters, so our leaders have their patrons in Washington. From the vantage point of Pakistan, none of these actors behaves lawfully.

Remember that this international conflict with militant Islam has always been branded as a battle between the civilised and the uncivilised. Countless essays and journals have been printed trying to convince us that we are in this mess because Muslims are simply struggling to modernise. And yet in its conduct of this war the west has rarely lived up to the standards of justice and democracy that are supposed to distinguish it from the Islamist foe.

Siddiqui is emblematic of this brazen hypocrisy, a fact not lost on Pakistanis. Contrast her to US soldiers implicated in war crimes in Iraqand the marines who killed Afghans for sport. None of them is likely to receive 86 years in prison. This double standard is what fuels the outrage. It is the same double standard that, in Pakistan, sees some sit in high office while others languish in prison.

Pakistan’s leaders underwrite America’s missile war in the tribal areas – whose civilian casualties, President Asif Zardari said, according to Bob Woodward’s latest book, “do not worry me.” In the minds of most Pakistanis this puts the lie to any pretensions the US might have to being the world’s saviour.

But Pakistan is not immune to hypocrisy either. Where were the protests for Mukhtaran Mai, the rape victim who became one our bravest human rights activists? In 2005, then-president Musharraf infamously claimedthat Mai got herself raped to get a visa to the west, giving voice to a sentiment shared by many. There has been little protest over Umar Cheema, a courageous investigative reporter who was kidnapped and tortured by what he claims were secret government agents because of a string of stories that exposed the corruption of our military and civilian leaders. And what of Balochistan, the province where fresh stories of enforced disappearance and rape filter out every week but never get investigated?

We have lost our moral compass. With our cricketers disgraced, our cinemas and shrines increasingly targeted and our bread baskets flooded, outrage has become our premier national pastime. There is plenty to be outraged about, but outrage won’t bring us jobs or electricity or return our crops. Like any addict, we need to drop our habit of outrage and victimhood. Of course, that will not happen any time soon.

[This article first appeared in The Guardian on Friday October 1, 2010: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/01/pakistan-aafia-siddiqui-outrage]