The Pakistani government is seriously considering a proposal by the Foreign Office to swap the five American nationals held on terror charges for Pakistani doctor Aafia Siddiqui who is detained in the US.
"We have sent a proposal to the President and the Prime Minister not to deport the detained US nationals unilaterally," a senior Foreign Office official told IslamOnline.net, requesting anonymity for not being authorized to talk about this with the media.
Instead, the official said, the government should ask Washington to release Pakistanis languishing at different US detentions in exchange for the deportation of its detained nationals.
Five young Americans were arrested by security agencies from the northeastern city of Sarghoda on charges of trying to trickle into South Waziristan and onward to neighboring Afghanistan.
The US is seeking their immediate deportation following a joint interrogation by Pakistani authorities and a visiting FBI team. However, a Pakistani court has issued a stay order on a petition filed by a human rights organization ordering government not to deport the detainees till further notice. Government sources say the country’s intelligence agencies too are not in favor of the immediate deportation of the Americas.
"I cannot say anything about the fate of our proposal, but what I know is that the concerned quarters are considering this seriously," said the Foreign Office official.
Pakistan’s political and religious parties have been demanding the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, who was reportedly kidnapped from Karachi in 2003 by the FBI and taken to Guantanamo on charges of links to Al-Qaeda.
Besides Aafia, three other Pakistanis, including a father and son, Saifullah Piracha, and Uzair Piracha, and Majid Khan have been languishing in US custody on similar charges.
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, a professor at international relations department, Quaid-e-Azam University, does not believe Pakistan would be successful in pressing the US for a detainee swap.
"Theoretically and morally, it will be a just demand," he told IOL.
"But the US is a superpower and Pakistan is a developing country. Superpowers have more say than smaller countries," he contends. "Therefore, we should expect something extraordinary in this case."
An American court in New York had charged Siddiqui, a Pakistani mother and US-educated neuroscientist who vanished years ago, with attempted murder of US officers in Afghanistan.
She was allegedly first detained by Afghan police in possession of bomb-making instructions and suspicious liquids. While undergoing questioning she allegedly seized a US army M-4 rifle and attacked a group of US servicemen, including two FBI agents, two US army officers, and army interpreters.
Siddiqui is an honors graduate from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She took a doctorate in neuro-cognitive science, not microbiology or genetics as often misreported, at Brandeis University, near Boston. She returned to Pakistan in late 2002 after divorcing her husband, who was briefly detained and questioned by the FBI in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
Siddiqui, along with her three young children, dropped out of sight in 2003 in the Pakistani port city of Karachi. Her sudden appearance and trial revived the debate about the fate of hundreds of Pakistanis missing for years on suspicion of terror links.
Access interview at islamonline.net