It appears to be the fashion that every time a new government takes office, or a politician ascends a recently vacated post, the rescue of Aafia Siddiqui is one of the causes they seek to champion to demonstrate empathy with the emotions of ordinary Pakistanis. A highly charged issue, Ms Siddiqui's release has been used to gain public backing by a variety of groups, displaying her as the symbol of the resistance to Western interference in Muslim lands.

Ms Siddiqui's chequered past notwithstanding, and oftentimes not even understood, support for her repatriation to Pakistan has been unstinting. In the absence of a prisoner exchange treaty with the US, this was considered legally impossible. Of course, this did not stop politicians making a grand display of cajoling, threatening and personally pledging to plead her case with the US.

However, this time round it seems the government has found a way to open up the possibility for her return. A European Convention on prisoner exchange is likely to be signed, to which the US is also a signatory, thereby once again raising hope that Aafia will be reunited with her family.

Whether the convention is being signed only for Aafia is unlikely, but it is doubtful whether the larger issue of Pakistani prisoners languishing in foreign jails has been considered, is not known. It seems more likely that Aafia's return may be the lucky byproduct of a prisoner exchange demanded of Pakistan by the US, and not vice versa.

This perception is strengthened by the overturning of Shakil Afridi's sentence of 33 years by a court hearing the case. An extraordinary piece of news, given the interest with which the Afridi case has been followed so far.

If this is to arrange Aafia Siddiqui's return, it is incomprehensible that it should be in exchange for Shakil Afridi's release. The lady's rescue is neither as important a policy issue, nor as significant a 'victory' as ensuring that Afridi is retired for betraying the Hippocratic oath.

Shakil Afridi's treasonous role in assisting foreign agencies spying in Pakistan cannot be forgotten, but what cannot be forgiven is that he may be the reason for a surge of polio cases in Pakistani children in the coming years.

Ms Siddiqui's name is mentioned as often as her murky history is not. Her family's impassioned appeals have an emotional pull, but national policy is not made on the basis of emotion alone. The fact is that while Ms Siddiqui's return on the basis of humanitarian grounds concerning her deteriorating mental and physical health, is to be supported, it cannot be in return for handing over Shakil Afridi to another county.