Distant crisis, local reverberations; Pakistan

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By: Michelle Hu <mhu@hilite.org>

After Dec. 27, the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto changed the lives of people not only in Pakistan, but also here.

Junior Fatimah Hameed has family members who were in a couple of large cities during the aftermath of Bhutto’s assassination. She said her father’s side of the family lives in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where Bhutto’s assassination occurred, and her mother’s side lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She recalled the situations that her maternal family members were in.

“The assassination of the former prime minister (really affected my family),” she said, “and it was more what followed that really took a toll on the actual people who lived there, because there was a really huge reaction to what happened. People started to express their grief; people started rioting, setting things on fire (and) pretty much just causing a lot of chaos.

“Also, people just used that time as an excuse to cause more mayhem, and even people who weren’t really doing it just out of grief just took that opportunity to go rob places. All these banks and all these other places were robbed, and people were looted in the streets.”

David Bardos, International relations teacher and social studies department chairperson, said he hears often the stories of family members in Pakistan.

“I have several students in the (AP) Block class who are from Pakistan,” he said, “and I can only reflect what they have said in class and that is in many areas, many people don’t know what’s going on. If you get away from the large cities, then everything seems to be stable.”

Hameed said that no one was hurt during the mayhem, but that the situation must have been terrifying for those who experienced it.

“Our family was in our village (to escape from the turmoil in the city). They’re from Karachi, which is pretty much where everything happens.

“Some of them were on their way back (to the city), and some of them made it safely, but some of them ended up stuck on the highway. There were all these traffic jams, and traffic was not moving at all.

“And, they saw people breaking into other people’s cars while they were still sitting there and people beating people up and stealing from them right in front of their eyes,” Hameed said.

“There were kids there, too, and it was really scary, obviously,” she said. “They ended up having to go back to the village. They didn’t even get back to the city for another few days.”

Bardos said he agrees that politically, the situation in Pakistan is in chaos.

“Obviously, the situation is in so much flux,” he said. “Total chaos looms on the horizon as they try to work themselves through the assassination of Bhutto and whether or not Musharraf is going to be able to maintain control or (if) it is going to blow apart.”

Bhutto’s assassination delayed the nation’s elections that were scheduled for Jan. 8, but now have been pushed back to this month, according to MSNBC.

Hameed said that her friends have become very informed of the situation. “Some of (my classmates) know quite a bit because actually, in our AP Block class, it comes up very often. It’s kind of like a running joke now, talking about Pakistan every morning.”

However, she said she feels many of her classmates do not know about Bhutto’s at times corrupted bureaucratic system.

“I feel like people just get one side of what’s going on there. People get their information from the same places, so everyone knows one viewpoint and I feel like everyone goes off of that as being the only (source). I don’t think people really look too much into it.”

The background behind Pakistan’s history with the United States is of high importance to international relations. “I think it’s important to recognize Pakistan as a member of the nuclear club,” Bardos said. “They have nuclear capabilities. In that area of instability, if we see the fall of Musharraf, who comes to power? Who controls the nukes? Anytime we see destabilization or the game includes nuclear potential, it’s a scary situation.”

However, she said she feels many of her classmates don’t know about Bhutto’s bureaucratic system that is corrupt at times.

“I feel like people just get one side of what’s going on there. People get their information from the same places, so everyone knows one viewpoint and I feel like everyone goes off of that as being the only (source). I don’t think people really look too much into it.”

The background behind Pakistan’s history with the United States is of high importance to international relations. “I think it’s important to recognize Pakistan as a member of the nuclear club,” Bardos said. “They have nuclear capabilities. In that area of instability, if we see the fall of Musharraf, who comes to power? Who controls the nukes? Anytime we see destabilization or the game includes nuclear potential, it’s a scary situation.”

Bardos added, “It is so difficult to predict what’s going to happen here. Here we have Bhutto (who) represented a liberalization, a democratization, in Pakistan (and) Musharraf, who is a strong man who came to power in essence of a coup.

“The military is the only stable group within the country of Pakistan,” he said, “and then you throw in the added element of al Qaeda (and the) Taliban, located in northwestern Pakistan, the tribal chieftains that live in that region. It’s the makings for just a horrible brew of chaos.”

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