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Pakistan’s prime minister said Friday he will fight for the release of Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani scientist sentenced Thursday in New York to 86 years in prison for trying to shoot American soldiers in Afghanistan.
In a speech to parliament, Yousuf Raza Gilani called Ms. Siddiqui “the daughter of the nation.” She is widely seen as innocent in Pakistan, and some Pakistanis took to the streets to protest her sentence Friday.
"We all are united, and we want the daughter of the nation to come back to Pakistan," he told parliament, which unanimously adopted a resolution demanding Siddiqui's repatriation.
"I fought for her, my lawyer fought for her and now I will take up this matter on a political level," he said.
Siddiqui was convicted of attempted murder in February for grabbing a rifle and shooting at US interrogators while she was detained by US forces near the Afghan city of Ghazni in 2008. The US says she was carrying bomb-making instructions and a list of New York City landmarks when she was arrested. As the Monitor reports, Siddiqui was missing for five years before her arrest, and the details of that time are murky.
But Siddiqui had been on US authorities' radars long before her detention. The FBI issued an alert saying it was seeking Siddiqui, then living in the US, for questioning because of ties to a man alleged to be an Al Qaeda agent planning attacks in the US. She disappeared around that time…
She has variously said that she was kidnapped and held secretly by the US during that time, that she'd been kidnapped and held by Pakistan, and that she was a secret agent for the Pakistani intelligence services.
Pakistani newspaper The Nation reports that Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government would attempt to repatriate Siddiqui through every means possible. He also called Siddiqui’s family after the verdict to express his sympathy.
Pakistanis protested Siddiqui’s sentence in at least two cities Friday, and authorities in other cities were preparing for more. About 100 people attempted to march to the US embassy in Islamabad but were stopped by police. In Peshawar, dozens of people burned tires and chanted slogans against the US and Pakistani leaders.
But that was less than the thousands of people who protested across Pakistan when Siddiqui was convicted in February.
The Christian Science Monitor reported then that the outpouring of anger was “another example of the US government’s high-handedness and is expected to fuel anti-American sentiment in a country where Washington's foreign policy is already viewed with suspicion.” Anger against the US has been stoked by US drone attacks that have killed Pakistanis in increasing numbers. Gilani said Friday that the release of Siddiqi would "improve the US image in Pakistan."
“The public’s reaction [to the conviction] can be read as a reaction to drone attacks, travel restrictions, and other discriminatory policies [against Pakistanis],” says Riffat Hussain, a political and defense analyst at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University. ...
"Aafia’s case has become a rallying point for anti-US sentiments,” says Dr. Hussain.