Bokhari on Issue of Justice and Case of Missing Person Siddiqui

See full article by Tahmena Bokhari at


The "Mysterious" Case of Aafia Siddiqui and the Silence on Justice

By Tahmena Bokhari

“Lady Al Qaeda”, one of the most dangerous women in the world, and her arrest was called a tremendous gain in the war on terror. In April 2010, after a meagre 14 day trial in New York and a three day jury deliberation, the American court found Dr. Aafia Siddiqui guilty of attempted murder of US military officers in Afghanistan in 2008. Just days ago in a long awaited sentencing trial she was given 86 years in prison, a punishment that hardly seems fit for the crime.

So who is Dr. Aafia Siddiqui? She is a Pakistani mother of three who was educated in the US as a neuroscientist, an identity that would normally be considered a symbol of pride for Pakistanis. I, like many of you, learned of Siddiqui in 2003 when she first went missing in Karachi, Pakistan with her three kids. I have since been determined to learn more about this woman and this case, but the severe lack of information and high levels of confusion surrounding her story have made this a challenge. Is she really a terrorist? Was she held in a secret US prison for 5 years? I do not know her personally. I do not know whether she is guilty or innocent. I am only aware of her image as has been constructed for us by the media, both Pakistani and American. I do know that her case and treatment were not based on principles of justice, humanity and equity. The case of Siddiqui is now a symbol for the cases of thousands of missing persons under the ‘war on terror’ policy and serves as a reality check for the rest of us who think we will be, forever and always, protected by our human rights.

So What Is Her Story?

Siddiqui reappeared distressed and frail in 2008 wandering around in Ghazni, Afghanistan with a twelve year old boy whom she did not know was her son. Because she was acting suspiciously, according to the Afghan authorities, she was taken into custody and searched. She was found with a bag full of maps, chemicals, and other materials that looked like she was plotting a terrorist attack. She said at that time that she was given the bag by someone unknown to her. So where was she between 2003 and 2008? The US denies holding her in custody and she/her family indicate that she was in a secret prison in Bagram, Afghanistan, being tortured and raped. For five years she did not know where her children were, punishment enough many mothers would say. Her six month old baby boy is believed to have been killed. Her other two children were returned to her family after 2008.

The ‘War on Terror’ Policy

It is important to know that the ‘war on terror’ is not being fought under the judicial system as we know in Canada or America, which is based on the rule of law, the premise of being innocent until proven guilty, fair trial and due process, and so on. When we think of a criminal case here in North America, it begins with a proper investigation that provides sufficient cause for an arrest warrant, an arrest is made, the suspect is read his/her rights, s/he is told why they are under arrest and the exact charges laid against them, they are given an opportunity to make a phone call and have the right to legal representation before they make any statement. At the trial, the prosecution must present evidence to prove the accused is guilty to a jury of his/her peers. There are checks and balances along the way, and not that the system is perfect, but we accept the principles upon which it is based and have the right to appeal if those principles have some how been violated. Judges and lawyers are also held legally and professionally accountable if their actions in anyway compromise the due process.

However, in the war on terror lead by the US, a country infamous for citing human rights violations in other countries, the judicial system as we have known it has been done away with. Persons have just gone missing. Under this policy, a person can be taken in to custody, interrogated for years, and taken to secret prisons. The person need not be told (and usually is not) why they have been taken, or where they are, and neither is their family informed. They do not have access to legal counsel, nor do they have rights to a phone call, and so on. The war on terror is being fought using only intelligence that the American military (and cooperating countries) obtain from detainees, likely under duress or torture. The information can then be used to ‘kidnap’ more persons, without any investigation into the reliability of this information or any evidence. There are estimated thousands of such missing persons in Pakistan.

In Balochistan alone over 4000 persons are reportedly missing and there are 8000 cases of missing persons across the country since the start of the war on terror. The exact number of missing persons and victims of “forced disappearances” are difficult to confirm mostly because of difficulties in finding accurate information. There are no documents to go by, only reports by family members who may or may not file formally with the police.

Poster Child for All Missing Persons

This is what happened to Dr. Aafia Sidiqui when she just simply went missing in 2003. Her family did not know what happened to her until they received phone calls from ‘anti-terror agencies’ saying that they have taken her and that the family should not make any public statements regarding her disappearance or else Siddiqui would be killed. The family believes these calls were from anti-terrorist agencies and that the Pakistani government was involved in handing her over to the American FBI forces. No one has actually come forward to claim a role in her abduction.

Her profile seemed quite unusual for a terrorist. How could this mother of three be a terrorist? We do not know for sure if she was or was not, or to what extent if so. There is also the suspicion that her ex-husband is the one who turned her in to save himself as the couple got phone calls early on from US authorities regarding suspicious behaviour in the US.

We may never have these answers. The point here is not for me to help you decide whether this particular woman is guilty or innocent, that is what our judicial system is for. The greater point is that the process must be a just one based on evidence and logic, and we must fight for these values of justice. She is representing thousands of missing persons whose names never make it to the press. This could be any one of us. Again, no evidence is required, no answers need be given, and the US is not required by any law in the world to let anyone know who is in their custody, why and what they are doing to that person. There is no accountability in how long they are held or where they are held. What if you were walking down the street and this happened to you? Under the current war-on-terror policy, you would have no rights to utilize.

Questions Raised from this Case

What about innocent until proven guilty? What about basic humanity?

What if it was an American or British woman captured in Pakistan with three children, one only six months old? How would the reaction be different?

How did she end up in Afghanistan?

If she was running from authorities or out to commit a terrorist attack, why would she take her three children with her away from their family home in Karachi? Why were all her children not released at the same time?

How can a frail woman of 90lbs lift and drag the heavy weapon or even know how to use it?

How can a woman just be taken off the streets with three children? Why was her family threatened upon her disappearance in 2003? Why were they told to not go to the press or the police or her kidnappers would kill her?

Even if you support the war on terror, is it justified that a woman could be taken with three children? Why was she not charged with terrorism?

Is this a just policy? How can we change it and improve it based on justice?

How can we fight terror, but at the same time be true to the very values of justice we are known for around the world?

How can we justify no accountability on the treatment of detainees, no accountability of what is done with the information received under duress and torture, and no accountability for human rights violations?

On the other hand, why would the US and other governments do this? If they are focused on fighting terror why did they not charge her or any accomplices with terrorism? Part of the answer, many critics of the case say, is that the American government does not want to confirm that they held a woman in custody and tortured her for five years. They do not want their private and underground mission including large violations of human rights exposed to the world. The freedom-loving people of America would surely retaliate against such a policy. So is the US government afraid of exposing their strategies to their own constituents?

So What Can We Do?
It may seem like there is little for people like you and I to do in a case like this. However, the greatest contribution the average person can make is of raising awareness and asking a lot of questions. Simple awareness can lead us to organizing, campaigning, networking and building a movement to create and sustain justice around this ‘war on terror’ policy. Many people are not even aware of this case, the strange details surrounding it, or even why it is such a critical one for all of our human rights. Information is essential so that we the people can truly democratically decide whether our governments are in fact representative of our values. Is the US practicing the values of democracy, justice and human rights that they preach around the world? Siddiqui has indeed become a symbol for such pretence. I will leave you with the below quotes.

“Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.”Saul Bellow

“In Germany they came first for the Communist, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”Martin Niemoeller

About the author: Tahmena Bokhari is a dual-citizen of Canada and Pakistan, and has worked significantly on social causes in both places. She is a strong advocate for social justice and creating positive change. Bokhari first publicly spoke out about the case of Aafia Siddiqui earlier this year and the above is a summary of her talks.

Bokhari on Cricket

Bokhari on Importance of Cricket in Pakistan
by Tahmena Bokhari on Monday, September 27, 2010
This article was published in "Pakistan Abroad" on Thurs, Sept 23rd 2010. See it here on page 6, http://www.pakistanabroad.ca/Pakistan%20Abroad%2023%20Sep%202010%20Issue%20108.pdf

It was also published by Oye! Times at


Pakistan to Cricket as Canada to Hockey

By Tahmena Bokhari

I think cricket is a great sport and something Pakistanis around the world can be really proud of. We should certainly promote this sport and get all men, women and youth involved. First, cricket, as do other sports for countries around the world, provides a positive physical outlet for young men in Pakistan. It teaches you how to be a team player, how to reach a goal as a team, become aware of your body and health, and connects you with other men (or women) your age and a coach who can potentially be a mentor in other areas. It can also make you feel more confident and raise your level of pride in yourself and your community. It challenges you physically, which is one necessary element in developing a high quality of life. We need more of cricket being played in Pakistan and abroad by everyone whether it is in neighborhood leagues or the professional teams.

Second, Pakistan’s active participation in this sport helps bring world wide recognition to our country. As our team and players travel around the world to compete and when other teams come to Pakistan to play against our team, we are promoting our country. Others get to meet Pakistanis and learn about Pakistan from our players who then actually become ambassadors.

This aspect is very similar to the pageant industry, where women who represent Pakistan interact with women from around the world. Through these friendships it is quite amazing how informal education on the country, culture and peoples are transferred. Pakistan needs as much promotion as possible right now from all of our formal and informal ambassadors.

Cricket and the development of Pakistan:

If you look at any developed nation, they have an enriched athletic scene. This is along with other aspects of society, such as media, fashion, arts, education, health and so on. In Pakistan, I believe we have to focus on all these other aspects to help ourselves progress and prosper. If sports and cricket are not well emphasized then we will lose positive activities for young men (and women) to go into. Studies show that there is a link between high levels of testosterone (male hormone) and violent behviour and aggression. Adolescent males have high levels of testosterone and thus, experience a lot of aggression. Of course this is physiologically normal for young men all around the world. In many countries and communities where positive outlets such as sports exist, along with appropriate mentorship by other men, this does not necessarily become a huge social problem. However, in developing countries where there are limited options along with layers of poverty, civil unrest, political turbulence, and economic despair, this aggression can turn into severe anger and violence. Young men in these cases often end up resorting to negative outlets and become vulnerable to mixing with the wrong crowds, such as gangs and terrorits groups. Thus, we should help develop sports and other positive physical and creative outlets in Pakistan.

Women and cricket:

I think women should be more involved in cricket or sports in general, not just cheering on their favorite players but as players themselves. The women currently in cricket are very inspiring to women all over the wold. We need to encourage women to go into sports for so many reasons. First, we need more outlets for women. Second, women need creative, healthy and positive outlets to be physically active. Cricket is a fun activity, and not just one to play if you want to be in the professional leagues.

Women and physical fitness:

Unfortunately, many Pakistani women are not as physically active as they should be in their younger years and thus face the ageing process earlier or harsher with various illnesses such as bone density loss, osteoporosis, and weight gain and so on. Women must keep their muscles strong to help keep their bones in proper position; this becomes very important as we age. If women were encouraged to stay active, by say participating on women’s teams at early ages, then likely it would be something they would continue doing throughout their life.

In addition, we often misunderstand what a healthy body looks like. Just because one is very ‘skinny’, or less than 100lbs (very common for Pakistani teens and young adults), does not mean one is healthy. Many Pakistani women are not overweight at all, but their heart rates have never been challenged through cardiovascular activity and likely their weight is made up of more fat than muscle mass. Women who work out can weigh more because muscle weighs more than fat, and we need muscles to be strong. Overall, we need to foster a culture that encourages an active and positive lifestyle for men, women and youth.

People usually ask me because I am a Pakistani who my favorite cricketer is. I really cannot decide, I like all of them. Ones who stand out in my mind are the ones who truly became world famous such as Shahid Afridi, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. I especially like the female players because I think they are making for good role models, perhaps even moreso than the men.

Pakistan and Cricket is Like Canada and Hockey

As a Canadian, I see many similarities between Pakistan and its fascination with cricket and Canada and its fascination with ice hockey. Just like when there is a Canada-U.S. ice hockey match, the fans go wild and the ticket sales go through the roof, the same it is for Pakistan-India cricket matches. My Canadian friends, especially the guys, are just gaga during hockey season and the same with my Pakistani male friends during cricket matches. It is interesting that as a Canadian and a Pakistani, I am really not a die-hard fan, nor a player, of either sport, athough I do watch both every now and then.

How do I then keep active? Well, I love soccer and I often wonder during the World Cup if this means I should obtain a third nationality. In addition, my fit-keeping activities also include badminton, hiking, taking long walks, and dancing. Having a variety of physical activities in your routine helps keep your body guessing and your muscles working harder. Once again, it is an important aspect of a high quality life to have various physical outlets available to you.

For more info on Women Pakistani Cricket players check out http://cricket.yahoo.com/team-profile/Pakistan-Women_1130

About the author:

"Tahmena Bokhari is dedicated to promoting positive images of Pakistan as well as promoting critical dialogue on the various serious issues facing Pakistanis around the world."

List of Articles Written by Tahmena Bokhari

Speaking Out Against Attacks on Ahmadiyya Mosque

My Pakistan: Reflections on Aug 14th 2010

Honour Killings

Knowing Your Roots: Struggles of South Asian Youth

What's Faith Got To Do With It?

Nuns vs Whore, Hijabis vs HoJabis: Women's Sexuality

A Beauty Queen Becomes Ambassador to a Muslim state

Religion of Peace vs People of Peace

Niqab vs Bikini

Perfect Relationship

Tahmena Bokhari candidly speaks on the suicide-bomb attacks of May 28th 2010 on Ahmadiyya Mosques in Lahore, Pakistan

Tahmena Bokhari candidly speaks on the suicide-bomb attacks of May 28th 2010 on Ahmadiyya Mosques in Lahore, Pakistan.
As published in Oye! Times: http://www.oyetimes.com/views/columns/3561-tahmena-bokhari-on-the-suicide-bomb-attacks-on-ahmadiyya-mosques-in-lahore-pakistan

Tahmena Bokhari at the sight of the Red Mosque bombings in Pakistan.

“My condolences to all of the families who have lost their loved ones on May 28th in Lahore. This is a loss not only for the families or the Ahmadiyya community, but for all of Pakistan and Pakistanis everywhere. My thoughts are with all Pakistanis and the world community as we are living through some of the most difficult times since partition. We as the citizens of Pakistan, despite (or perhaps even due to our diverse) religious and spiritual backgrounds, along with the world community, must stand up against such attacks. It is not a question of the Ahmadiyya community alone, it is that of the Shia community, the Christian community, the Ismaili community, and the Sikh community – all of whom are very afraid since these attacks. This was an attack on all of humanity and no one should remain a silent bystander. We must stand together as human beings for justice and stand up against the culture, the laws, and the ideologies that promote hate and violence.

On May 28th 2010, two Ahmadiyya mosques in Lahore, Pakistan were attacked by suicide bombers and from what we understand, more than 80 people were killed. I strongly condemn these vicious murders that are the products of hate and ignorance. These attacks have not been committed by followers of the Islam I know and love.

Just to give some brief background: The Ahmadiyyas are a ‘minority’ group, a sect of Islam that dominant Muslim groups do not agree falls under the category of Islam. The main difference in mainstream Islam and Ahmadiyya Islam is the belief in the last messenger and prophet of God [or so has been described my the dominant Muslim group]. The majority of Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad was the last prophet whereas the Ahmadiyyas believe there were prophets or messiahs after him. The dominant Muslim majority believes that to be a Muslim one must declare and believe that there is only one God, Allah, and that the Prophet Muhammad was his last prophet, so any deviation of this main belief would not be considered Islamic [of course I am sure the debate over differences can go on and on].

Importantly, it was in 1974 that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan declared Ahmadiyyas to be non-Muslim. Ten years later in 1984, the then President of Pakistan, General Zia, made it a criminal offense for Ahmadiyyas to call themselves Muslim or even to say the Muslim greeting of ‘Asalam-u-alaikum’, a charge for which one could be imprisoned. The Ahmadiyyas were also the major victims of the blasphemy laws, and if convicted, they could be sentenced to death. Note that the judicial and law enforcement system in Pakistan is not the same as we know it here in North America. Some Ahmadiyyas who were charged with such violations of Pakistani laws, however, did not even make it to court to be sentenced but were attacked and killed by so-called Muslim civilians and usually without any just inquiry into their murders. Whatever your religious differences may be with whichever group, I am hoping we can all agree that it is not a reason to be violent, to imprison, or to kill.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws also target Christians, single women, various minority groups, or any one who does not agree with the strict interpretations of the dominant religion. I strongly feel that it is the terrorists who need to be charged with blasphemy laws and any one else who promotes hate and violence, as that is the most un-Islamic act that I am aware of. Who gets to decide what is ‘un-Islamic’ anyway?

As a social worker I have worked with hundreds of members of the Ahmadiyya community to help them seek asylum and settle in Canada along with other social work issues. I have worked with the many traumatized widowed Ahmadiyya women and their children and can attest to the devastation faced by these families. I have been extremely passionate about this work but it did come with some criticism. This criticism was mainly that Sunnis (dominant Muslim sect) should not be helping the ‘anti-Islamic’ Ahmadiyyas. My specific faith label is not the issue here, my values of social justice are, and I would claim that social justice are the very values my personal faith has taught me. The Islam I know is one of peace and justice. More importantly and to put it very simply, whether one is atheist, agnostic, Christian, Ahmadiyya, Ismaili, Shia, Sunni, Hindu, Jewish or whatever - you do not kill people for having diverging beliefs from yours (or for any reason).

Let's all be a part of the solution and stand up for a better world!"

Tahmena's commentary on an article by the Dalai Lama

Tahmena's commentary on an article by the Dalai Lama
by Tahmena Bokhari on Wednesday, June 9, 2010
This was published as an article linked here http://www.oyetimes.com/views/columns/3586-harmony-of-the-worlds-faiths-can-it-possibly-be

Tahmena Bokhari shares with you the article in the New York Times by the Dalai Lama linked here http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/opinion/25gyatso.html.

Tahmena has spent time in monasteries in Southeast Asia to understand Buddhism and in her capacity as a social worker, she has worked with the people of this faith.

Tahmena Bokhari in Cambodia.
For more information see http://tahmenabokharisoutheastasia.blogspot.com/

In regards to the article, Tahmena stated, “I am sharing this article with you because I can relate to the journey described. When we begin to look at various faiths and work with diverse peoples from around the world, as is in my experience, one finds many commonalities in basic core ‘good’ principles hidden among the many differences in how these principles are taught, expressed and practiced. While I was in Southeast Asia, I was truly inspired by those of the Buddhist faith to practice qualities of selflessness, self actualization, compassion, integrity, and most importantly genuine peace from within. These are traits I know are taught in Islam and also in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and so on. Similarly, I have learned from people of the Jewish, Hindu, Baha'i and Islamic faiths as well as others about the realization and practice of various ‘good’ principles. I believe that we must focus on these commonalities. I agree that harmony among the faiths is necessary for peaceful coexistence in our current globalized world. Most importantly, I believe the problems we are seeing today in the world stem from a lack of recognizing commonalities and lack of openness to different expressions of the same ‘good’ principles, sometimes even among the sects of the same religion.

As a community worker who has had the privilege to work alongside peoples of diverse faiths, histories and backgrounds, I have often noticed the focus on differences and less celebration of the commonalities. However, I have also noticed that when open, safe, positive and well-facilitated cross-faith dialogues and interactions did take place, something magnificent would happen among people and their communities. Individuals would learn from a variety of sources, the possible ways to practice and embody those same good principles. The people would say that they actually walked away with renewed hope in their own practice of their faith while having broadened their horizons. They felt better about themselves and about each other. I would argue that they walked away towards a stronger experience of self-actualization (a concept discussed significantly by Abraham Maslow in his theory of the hierarchy of needs). This contradicts the criticism we sometimes hear that intermingling would only lead to dilution of values and decreased integrity in faith. It does, however, support an idea I have often promoted in my social work, that it is when you are among diversity, when you are faced with new ideas, new cultures, new environments and new challenges, that you truly get to know yourself, to develop yourself, and get to have an opportunity to demonstrate all of your 'good' values.

It is in everyone’s best interest, whether you are a head of state or the average villager, whether you are Muslim or Jewish, whether you are living in the west or east, and whether you are religious, spiritual, atheist, or agnostic, to create a culture of openness. If an individual feels (or community demonstrates) a lack of openness to diverse expressions of the same ‘good’ principles or willingness to work together, then I challenge those individuals/communities to find out why. In fact, I challenge every individual to question him or herself, to work on yourself from within, something only you can do, to discover what is behind your fears and your perceived threats, to work to relieve yourself of any hurtful, hateful, or negative baggage that is interfering in your personal level of peace. I feel it is the responsibility of every global citizen to do so and to support others in doing so."