Just recently, a British-Pakistani gunman identified as Muhammad Siddiqui entered a Colleyville, Texas synagogue and held the rabbi and two congregants hostage until they managed to escape — and the gunman was shot down. We now know that Siddiqui’s demand was targeted around the release of an imprisoned Pakistani terrorist, one Aafia Siddiqui.
It has long been known, in India at least, but seemingly not acknowledged internationally, that terrorism is deep-rooted within Pakistan and Siddiqui’s sole focus on Aafia Siddiqui makes abundantly clear what his motive was. The U.S. has danced with this particular devil on far too many occasions, and such a dance has previously involved Aafia who, contrary to Pakistan’s protestations, is no Joan of Arc.
In July 2008, U.S. forces in Afghanistan arrested Aafia Siddiqui—a Pakistani national who was a U.S.-educated neuroscientist and wife of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s nephew—on charges of terrorism. During her interrogation she allegedly grabbed an unattended rifle and was wounded in the process; this led to subsequent extradition to New York, where she was sentenced to eighty-six years in prison.
Rather than take her terroristic tendencies at obvious face value and condemn her to deserved imprisonment, Pakistan instead took it upon itself to deify her, citing her case as one emblematic of chronic injustice. Pakistan’s president, prime minister, and foreign minister all brought up her case with their American counterparts, and the Pakistani senate called on the United States to release her.
“Lady al-Qaeda” — as she became known — did not trouble the front pages of many newspapers in the U.S., but her arrest did kick into gear widespread anti-American demonstrations, which even audaciously demanded that Pakistani authorities suspend the delivery of supplies for the war effort in Afghanistan. Pakistan was not content to stand idly by while a terrorist was incarcerated — instead it ensured that her case consistently occupied headlines in media houses.
While groups like al Qaeda or the Islamic State are populated with citizens of other countries whose governments condemn them unequivocally, the bizarre deification of Aafia Siddiqui merited a quite different response from Pakistani officials who continued to fall over themselves to revel in her supposed victimhood, justify her behavior and actions, and continue to argue that she was a victim of western imperialism and injustice. While many in Pakistani streets continue to condemn her incarceration, it is certainly perturbing to know that such adulation has made its way to Blackburn in the North of England where Siddiqui’s ideological “brother” felt compelled to do something about it.
Pakistan has developed a Teflon-like ability to shield itself from international condemnation, whether it involved its embrace of Aafia or even in continuing to let those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks—terrorist attacks which killed international citizens—to roam free. Pakistan’s intelligence service knowingly provided al Qaeda leader Usama Bin Laden with safe-haven and protection. And while the Biden administration pensively debates the consequences of the Taliban rampage through Afghanistan as if the Taliban are distributing baklava sweets, the reality is that the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan last summer was in true essence a Pakistani invasion.
The Colleyville hostage situation should be a wakeup call to the world — and especially to the United States and the United Kingdom. Joe Biden and Boris Johnson should follow the lead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and decipher with crystal clarity that Aafia and Muhammad Siddiqui are not anomalies, but tried-and-tested products of Pakistan’s state policies.
The time has come for those world leaders to designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Saurav Dutt is a TIME and Esquire featured author and political analyst. He can be found at @sd_saurav on Twitter.
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