, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 12, 2008

Local doctor had firsthand view of chaos in Pakistan

NEWBURYPORT - When former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was assassinated two weeks ago, Dr. Nadeem Afridi couldn't turn on a television to find out what was going on.

In Kurachi, Pakistan, hundreds of miles away from Rawalpindi where Bhutto was killed, Afridi got word via text message on his cell phone.

Television and radio news have been blacked out in the country since early November when Gen. Pervez Musharraf took emergency rule of the country. Pakistanis rely on Internet news sites as well as satellite dishes to learn of news within their own country.

News of Bhutto's death spread across Pakistan via text message and word of mouth, drawing hundreds out onto the street in grief and anger.

"At first no one would believe it," Afridi said. "Soon there was firing outside of our gate, things were being burned, there was violent reaction."

Afridi, a cardiologist for Clipper Cardiovascular Associated in Newburyport, was in Pakistan visiting his brother. He recently returned and shared his experience, giving a rare window into a world few Americans understand.

In the days following Bhutto's death, violence marred the country with protests and widespread burning of cars, buildings and looting, Afridi said.

"People were generally angry, and there were random acts of violence. In Pakistan, this is acceptable only because there is so much poverty," Afridi said, noting the high cost of living, unemployment and poverty rates in Pakistan.

The government shut down businesses, and Pakistanis across the country struggled to get food staples and fuel.

"There was no fuel so we had to conserve," Afridi said. "They shut everything off because people were burning everything on the road."

News of Bhutto's death created chaos in Pakistan and raised concern worldwide about that country's unstable political climate and the country's fragile relations with the United States. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford, Bhutto had the backing of the U.S. because she pushed for democracy and an end to terrorism.

"Even the places in the country where she was not popular, people were asking why this happened and what was the reason," Afridi said. "I am sad, but I am not surprised by her death. It is sad we lost a leader. She would have probably transformed the country and would have become a power of democracy. But old generals are holding us back and holding onto power by dividing and conquering. They want to hold onto the free money coming to them from the U.S. government."

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