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Issue Date: February 1, 2008, Posted On: 2/1/2008

Pakistani Americans dispel fears over Bhutto backlash

Consensus is concerns are exaggerated, hype




“The repercussions of her murder will continue to unfold for months, even years. What is clear is that Pakistan’s political landscape will never be same, having lost one of its finest daughters.”

The somber editorial in the Dec. 28, 2007 issue of Dawn, a Pakistani English-language daily newspaper, conveyed the thoughts and emotions of the Pakistani people, who were grief-stricken over the assassination of political opposition leader Benazir Bhutto the day before. In commemorating Bhutto’s life and mourning her tragic death, the editorial asked the question that people everywhere were seeking an answer to: What would become of the People’s Islamic Republic of Pakistan now that the charismatic Bhutto was dead?

The world soon found out. As word of Bhutto’s killing spread rapidly across the country, enraged Pakistanis took to the streets, vowing to avenge her death. Angry mobs tore through cities and towns, burning cars, looting shops, and screaming in grief for their fallen leader. The chaos validated initial fears of government officials in Pakistan, India and the United States, specifically, that Bhutto’s death would spark an explosion of violence that could possibly be exploited by Islamic militant groups like al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

The violence prompted The Economist – the esteemed London-based weekly news and world affairs magazine – to label Pakistan “the world’s most dangerous place.” Win Thin, senior currency strategist at New York-based Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., stated in a research note issued shortly after Bhutto’s death, “The big takeaway from this horrible event is that Pakistan could slide into a civil war of sorts. Such a development would upset the delicate balance in the region. India, for instance, has benefitted from improved relations with Pakistan under Musharraf.”

But to native Pakistanis like Pervaiz Lodhie, such assessments of their homeland’s political and social stability – or lack thereof – are simply not true. Lodhie, who was born in Delhi before Pakistan and India were partitioned in 1947 – and a U.S. citizen for the last four decades – blames the media for contributing to the popular perception of many countries as dangerous; he accuses the media of propagating incorrect information about countries like Pakistan, and said his homeland is no more dangerous than some U.S. cities, such as Washington, D.C.

“Pakistan has more than 160 million people, but a very small minority of the population is causing the problems that Americans see on the television or read in the newspapers,” said Lodhie, the founder, president and chief executive officer of LEDtronics Inc., a Torrance, Calif.-based company that designs and manufactures environmentally friendly light-emitting diode bulbs.

“The television screen is a very powerful tool of the media – they can take a small event and blow it up on the screen and keep repeating it all day long. Think about it – when the media captures a small, localized demonstration in Pakistan and broadcasts it around the world, all of a sudden you have a major political rally or protest. Then, the magazines put an image of this demonstration on their covers and this creates the perception among people who aren’t familiar with Pakistan that all Pakistanis are crazy, Islamic fundamentalists,” he said.

Lodhie describes the majority of Pakistanis as “moderate, educated, middle-class citizens who prefer to mind their own business.”

“The people of Pakistan are very friendly, and yet, they are terrorized by these gangsters and hoodlums that you see on your television set every night,” he said. “I think it is unfair to call Pakistan a dangerous place – I would roam the streets of Karachi at night just to prove this point.”

Though the rioting ended within a week or so following Bhutto’s killing, it caused widespread damage to businesses and the country’s infrastructure. When the dust cleared, 174 banks, 22 trains and 13 electoral offices had been looted or torched. The country's railways sustained an estimated $201 million in damage. The destruction, coupled with lost wages and sales, adds up to approximately $2 billion in losses for the national economy, according to the Pakistani government.

“Pakistan is truly an amazing country – the people are very friendly, caring and hospitable, but this is overshadowed by the things that you see on the news or read about in the newspaper,” Najeeb Ghauri, the founder, chief executive officer and chairman of NetSol Technologies Inc., a Calabasis, Calif.-based firm that provides IT services to companies worldwide. “Pakistan is an emerging market, but its economy has grown an average 7 to 8 percent over the last six or seven years. Unfortunately, the crisis that began in the fall, when President Musharraf implemented martial law, followed by Bhutto’s death, hasn’t helped Pakistan.”

Ghauri, a Pakistani native, is clearly proud of his homeland – he speaks at length about the country’s positive economic growth and its culture, but acknowledges that Pakistan’s reputation as a dangerous country can be tiresome. “Most of what people in the West read or hear about Pakistan is all hysteria – it’s not in any way close to reality,” he said. “The characterization of Pakistan as the world’s most dangerous nation is totally unfair to the people of Pakistan; it makes no sense. Pakistan isn’t the safest country in the world, but it’s certainly not the most dangerous, either. It is discouraging.

“But despite these challenges, Pakistan’s economy continues to perform well,” Ghauri added. “Overall, the economy is doing very well, and though Pakistan continues to experience problems here and there, we will prevail, we will weather the storm. A nation is bigger than one single person.”

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