We wish to see Dr Aafia Siddiqui's difficulties end, Qureshi says

Updated Nov 08 2018


Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks to reporters in Multan on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speaks to reporters in Multan on Thursday. — DawnNewsTV

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Thursday that the government wishes to see a decline in the "difficulties" faced by Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who is currently imprisoned in the United States.

Speaking to reporters in Multan, he said the Foreign Office had taken up complaints raised by Dr Aafia with US authorities during the last few days.

Dr Aafia, who was convicted in 2010 on charges of attempted murder and assault of US personnel, is serving an 86-year sentence at the Federal Medical Centre, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. It is a US federal prison for female inmates of all security levels with special medical and mental health needs.

"We will definitely try," was Qureshi's response when asked by a reporter how successful the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government would be in bringing the imprisoned neuroscientist to Pakistan.

The minister said Aafia's sister, Dr Fauzia Siddiqui, had wanted to meet him and she was given a date for the purpose. However, the meeting could not take place due to her personal engagements.

"I will [now] meet her next week and hear her out. I will help her in whatever way I can within the limits of the law," Qureshi said.

The Foreign Office had revealed on Wednesday that Pakistani officials had raised the issue of "respecting the human and legal rights" of Dr Aafia with the US.

The matter was brought up during a meeting between Alice Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the US Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, and government officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier this week.

"[The] US side has promised to look into our request," the FO spokesman said.

A court in New York had sentenced Dr Aafia, an MIT graduate, to 86 years in prison on September 23, 2010.

Her sympathisers claim that she was arrested in Pakistan and handed over to intelligence agencies who then transferred her into US custody. Both US and Pakistani officials, however, say that she was arrested in Afghanistan.

Dr Aafia allegedly went missing for five years before she was discovered in Afghanistan. It is said that she snatched a gun during interrogation in Ghazni and tried to shoot a US soldier. She has also been accused of working for Al Qaeda.

Alice Wells' visit

Speaking about the visit of Alice Wells to Pakistan, Qureshi said the US diplomat had had "good" meetings with various stakeholders in Islamabad.

He said the bilateral discussions held between the two sides show that the Pakistan-US relationship has moved beyond just Afghanistan and 'do more'.

He attributed the "positive" environment for discussions to his meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The subject of bilateral cooperation in energy and other areas was also discussed during the meetings, the minister added.

'Political consensus needed for separate province'

Asked for an update on the government's efforts to create a new province comprising the southern part of Punjab, the foreign minister said the issue required legislation, a constitutional amendment and political consensus.

The government is trying to move forward on all three fronts, and two committees have been formed for the purpose, he said.

Qureshi said the Balochistan chief minister had promised him a "positive response" on the issue. The PPP has already said it would not object to the issue and while the PML-N "does not apparently oppose" the new province, there is a need for talks with the party to know its actual preferences, he added.

The PTI had included the formation of a new province in south Punjab to their election manifesto in May this year while absorbing a political party calling itself the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM; the South Punjab Province Front).

The JPSM mainly comprised estranged leaders of the PML-N who had formed the platform for the single-point agenda of carving a new province from the southern parts of Punjab.

Under the PTI-JPSM deal, the PTI was to set in motion the procedures to create a new province in south Punjab within 100 days if it formed the government.

According to Article 239 of the Constitution, the process of creating new provinces requires a two-thirds majority in separate votes in the two houses of parliament and then a further two-thirds majority in the provincial assembly of the affected province.