Pakistan weighing ways to win Aaafia's release
By Syed Irfan Raza
Saturday, 25 Sep
http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/front-page/govt-weighing-ways-to-win-aafias-release-590 , 2010
ISLAMABAD, Sept 24: The government decided on Friday to use legal, political and diplomatic means for repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqui who was sentenced to 86 years imprisonment by a US court on Thursday.
The decision, according to an official announcement, was taken at a meeting between Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Interior Minister Rehman Malik.
The prime minister said in a statement that the government would use all options to get Dr Siddiqui repatriated and would ask US authorities to consider her a prisoner of war.
The decision was taken in the wake of countrywide demonstrations organised by a number of political and religious parties calling for release of Dr Siddiqui and condemning the US government and its judicial system.
During his meeting with the interior minister, Mr Gilani is reported to have reiterated the government's commitment to bring Dr Siddiqui back to the country.
He observed that Dr Aafia had been taken away during the days of the previous government while his government had highlighted the issue at every level.
"The president and I discussed the matter with every dignitary visiting Pakistan, including Ms Hillary Clinton and Mr James Jones and also during our visits abroad," the prime minister said.
He said the government had sanctioned $2 million for providing legal aid to Dr Siddiqui.
Referring to efforts by the government, Mr Gilani said two children of Dr Siddiqui had been brought safely to Pakistan and steps taken to trace the third child.
The interior minister apprised the prime minister of his meeting with the US Attorney General during his recent visit to the US.
He said Pakistan's Ambassador had also met the US Attorney General and other dignitaries to highlight the importance of repatriation of Dr Siddiqui.
He said the interior ministry had addressed a letter to the US Attorney General before Dr Siddiqui had been convicted and called for her repatriation.
Later, Mr Malik convened a meeting in the interior ministry to consider political and legal options to bring Dr Siddiqui back.
According to a spokesman, the meeting decided to form a committee comprising representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Law and Justice and Interior and two eminent lawyers to suggest legal steps which should be taken to get her repatriated to Pakistan.
"It will also examine the possibility of filing an appeal against the judgment of the US court and hiring a US lawyer for the purpose," the spokesman said.
For handling the issue politically, the meeting decided to set up an inter-party delegation comprising women lawmakers from all provinces to send it to the United States to meet officials of US State Department and Homeland Security, US Attorney General, politicians, lawyers and human rights activists to convey sentiments of the people of Pakistan.
FOREIGN OFFICE: An official of the Foreign Office, when asked under what circumstances Dr Siddiqui could return home, told AFP that President Obama could pardon her, or an agreement could be reached for her to serve at least part of her sentence in Pakistan.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan expressed `dismay' over the "unusually harsh sentence" and called upon Islamabad and Washington to negotiate urgently her repatriation on humanitarian grounds.
"We fear that the verdict will be misunderstood in Pakistan and bring relations between the two allies in the war on terror under increased strain," said its chairman Mehdi Hasan.
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