KARACHI: Pakistan’s prime minister called a female scientist convicted of trying to kill US interrogators in Afghanistan ”the daughter of the nation” on Friday and vowed to campaign for her release from an American jail.
Yousuf Raza Gilani’s comments appeared to be an attempt to manage public anger over the 86-year sentence handed down to Aafia Siddiqui. The plight of the American-trained Pakistani scientist and mother has struck a chord among religious groups and ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom are convinced of her innocence.
She was sentenced Thursday in a New York court. The punishment prompted demonstrations in at least two cities, with much of the anger directed at the already unpopular Pakistani government for failing to somehow intervene in her case.
Pakistani authorities Friday were braced for more protests.
Gilani said he had recently lobbied US officials for Siddiqui’s release to “improve the US image in Pakistan.”
”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 Aafia’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, 38, was caught in Afghanistan in 2008. She was found guilty of seizing a weapon from one of her captors and trying to shoot US authorities who were interrogating her there.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government would petition the US administration to review the sentence on a “humanitarian basis” and request that Siddiqui be handed over to Pakistan and dealt with under Pakistani law.
Asked under what circumstances Siddiqui could return home, the foreign ministry said Obama could pardon her, or an agreement could be reached for her to serve at least part of her sentence in Pakistan.
Many Pakistanis believe claims by her supporters that the US abducted Siddiqui long before that and kept her in a secret prison for years as it pursued its fight against global terrorism. US officials deny those claims, though they had listed Siddiqui as a suspect wanted for alleged links to al-Qaeda before her arrest. – AP