International treaties hamper Aafia’s return to Pakistan

By Awais Saleem, IANS,

Islamabad: Pakistan will have to sign with foreign countries two international treaties dealing with the exchange of prisoners to enable the return from the US of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani-origin neuroscientist jailed on charges of being a suicide bomber.

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The US government apparently has informed the interior ministry of Pakistan about the procedure in this regard. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Friday that the government would write a letter to the US authorities to bring back Aafia as a prisoner.

Aafia, an MIT graduate neuroscientist, was arrested in 2008 from Afghanistan on suspicion of being a suicide bomber and was accused of carrying sensitive information about US installations and explosive material with her. During the investigation, she was also charged with an attempt to assault her US investigators and firing at will after grabbing an unattended rifle.

After a jury trial in the US federal court, she was sentenced Thursday to 86 years in prison on seven different charges. The verdict has received severe criticism in Pakistan where there is deep sympathy for Aafia and a sense that she may have been framed. Several rightwing religio-political parties arranged protest demonstrations to condemn the verdict.

There were calls of approaching the US government to advocate for Aafia’s return. However, there are two international conventions for the exchange of prisoners, neither of which has been joined by Pakistan, Dunya TV reported Saturday.

The US authorities have already notified Interior Minister Rehman Malik formally after the conviction of Aafia Siddiqi that there would be a framework for discussion on the issue of prisoner exchange only after joining these international treaties.

These two conventions are “Council of Europe Treaty” and the “OAS Treaty”, as per the US authorities that deal with prisoners’ exchange internationally and Pakistan is not a signatory to either of these, the report revealed.

“They were notified again in July during meetings of the strategic dialogue working group and the visit of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but no action was taken on these relatively simple, cost-free diplomatic initiatives,” the channel reported quoting sources in interior ministry.