Dr Aafia's issue was raised in meetings between PM, US president in 2013, 2015

Arshad Waheed Chaudhry

ISLAMABAD: The issue of withdrawal of all charges against Dr Aafia Siddiqui and her repatriation to Pakistan was raised by then-Prime Minister during his meetings with then-US President Barack Obama in 2013 and 2015.

This was revealed in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing to the Senate Standing Committee on Exterior on Wednesday.

According to the briefing note, a copy of which was obtained by Geo News, “at the political and official level, the United States was repeatedly approached through both formal and informal communications, for withdrawal of all charges against Dr Aafia and her immediate repatriation to Pakistan.

“At the highest level, the then Prime Minister also raised this issue in two meetings that he had with the US President in 2013 and 2015, with a view to securing repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqui to Pakistan but the request did not receive a positive response from the US side.”

The note mentions that the Pakistani government hired a team of three reputed attorneys recommended by Dr Aafia’s family to defend her in the US court, and an amount of US$2 million was paid to the defense attorneys. “However, Dr Aafia let go of all her lawyers following her conviction for 86 years in prison. Dr Aafia did not file appeal against her conviction despite pleadings by her lawyers and well-wishers.”

According to the briefing, there could not be a significant headway over the issue due to an absence of formal legal mechanism between the two countries for exchange of prisoners.

“Pakistan government also explored the option of acceding to the Council of Europe (COE) Convention on Transfer of Sentenced Persons signed between EU and US or accession to the Organization of American States (OAS) Inter-American Convention on Serving of Criminal Sentences Abroad.

“However, these efforts also did not materialize because of legal technicalities involved,” the note adds.

The note points out that as the Obama administration approached the end of its term, “extensive contacts” were made again at various levels with the US authorities to secure the repatriation of the imprisoned scientist.

The Pakistan Embassy in Washington, DC, and Consulate in Houston have maintained regular contact with Dr Aafia throughout her trial, conviction and incarceration. Consul General Houston visits Dr Aafia every three months, the note states.

“On 21st June 2017, CG Houston visited Dr Aafia at FMC Carswell but she refused to meet the CG or speak to her mother on telephone… Dr Aafia has on many occasions refused to meet our Consul General and chose not to call her family despite our Mission’s persuasions,” the Foreign Ministry says in the briefing note.

“Government of Pakistan will keep raising the issue of Dr Aafia with the US side at all possible levels and continue its efforts to secure release and repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddiqui.”

The note adds that the most recent meeting between the Consul General Houston and Dr Aafia was held on October 9, 2018 at FMC Carswell. During the meeting, which lasted almost two hours, Dr Aafia discussed different aspects of her imprisonment with the Consul General and sent messages to her children and other family members.