May Issue 2003

By | News & Politics | Published 16 years ago

As I walked into a large Karachi residence in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, I was greeted by an old veiled woman, who welcomed me and both my colleagues. She was Ismat Siddiqui, mother of Dr Afia Siddiqui, who alongwith her three children, disappeared on April 1, and has not been heard of since.

“I don’t want to talk with anyone or to give any statement,” said Ismat Siddiqui. However, she went on to speak for about two hours during which time, she generally remained calm, apart from a few emotional outbursts.

“My daughter is a highly educated woman, held in high esteem by her professors in the United States. I don’t know where she is and I am extremely concerned about her and her three children,” she said.

Her daughter’s name is on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) list of people it would like to question in connection with Al-Qaeda.

According to Mrs. Siddiqui , Afia left her mother’s house in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in a Metro-cab on March 30, to catch a flight for Rawalpindi, but never reached the airport. Inside sources claim that Afia had been “picked-up” by intelligence agencies while on her way to the airport and initial reports suggest she was handed over to the FBI. A few days later an American news channel, NBC, reported that Afia had been arrested in Pakistan on suspicion of facilitating money transfers for terror networks. “This is an absurd charge,” Mrs Siddiqui said. “She is a neurological scientist from MIT and has been living with her husband, Amjad, in the US for several years.”

Later, both the Pakistan government as well as US officials in Washington denied any knowledge of Afia’s custody, making her disappearance even more mysterious. In yet another twist, her husband Amjad Khan, whom Afia divorced three months before her disappearance, is also apparently under suspicion. According to Ismat Siddiqui, Amjad had wanted his eldest son to go to a madrassa, while Afia wanted her children to get an “English education.” Mrs. Siddiqui hinted that her former son-in-law was wanted by the FBI, but was not sure in what connection. Amjad Khan has no political background nor is he affiliated with any group, but his staunch Islamic beliefs may have motivated him to back or support Islamic extremist groups. According to Mrs. Siddiqui, he used to call his wife and mother-in-law “American agents.”

Surprisingly there has been no official report registered with the police about Afia’s disappearance which explains why Afia’s mother wanted to avoid going public. The police, meanwhile, is doing nothing to trace Afia. “We have no knowledge about this case nor has anyone contacted me,” said Sindh police chief, Syed Kamal Shah. Ismat Siddiqui, however, claims that she has spoken to high police officials, including Shah, about her daughter’s disappearance.

A week after the incident, Mrs. Siddiqui alleges that an intelligence agency official came to her house and warned her not to make an issue out of her daughter’s disappearance and threatened her with dire consequences.

The question is where is Afia and why are police and intelligence agencies silent? Is she in the custody of the FBI or the ISI? Another possibility is that Afia might have been kidnapped by her ex-husband, who may have links with Al-Qaeda. Whatever the case, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to hush up the mysterious circumstances behind Afia Siddiqui’s disappearance.