A US appeals court has upheld the September 2010 verdict that sentenced Aafia Siddiqui to 86 years in prison. The severity of her sentence raises yet another question in a case already riddled with them: what is Ms Siddiqui really being held accountable for? Is life imprisonment justified for firing at a handful of FBI agents and soldiers, none of whom were killed or injured? These questions will only add to the air of murkiness that still surrounds the case. That Ms Siddiqui had links to radical Islamists is not really a matter of dispute. What remain problematic are the circumstances of her arrest, the nature of her crimes and the conduct of her trial. Where was Ms Siddiqui between 2003 and 2008? Was she in Pakistani or American custody? If so, is the story of her arrest in 2008 real? If she wanted to carry out a terrorist attack against America, and possessed plans to do so when captured, why was she only charged with the crime of firing a gun at American officials after her arrest?
The problem with all this uncertainty is that it creates the impression that US authorities are hiding something, which raises doubts about the fairness of Ms Siddiqui’s custody and trial. All of which only provides an excuse to Pakistani firebrands to turn her into a symbol of everything that is wrong with America and a reason for Pakistan not to cooperate with the US (despite the fact that the Pakistani government has not been particularly forthcoming about her whereabouts prior to 2008). After four years of unanswered questions and a sentence that seems out of proportion to the charges that have been framed, the Aafia case will continue to be a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.