'It's a sad day in the history of Pakistan,' Boston-area Pakistanis say
About 10 miles from the park where assassins murdered Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Thursday, Mahmud Jafri watched angry people pour onto the streets of the capital, Islamabad, setting fire to cars.
Jafri, president of the Islamic Center in Hopkinton and owner of Dover Rug in Natick, was visiting family and doing business in his native Pakistan when gunfire and a bomb attack killed Bhutto, 54, in nearby Rawalpindi.
``The streets have been cordoned off,'' Jafri said in a phone interview. ``It's just a very difficult situation. People are venting their frustration.''
Jafri understood the sentiment.
``It's a sad day in the history of Pakistan,'' he said. ``To silence a voice through a heinous, senseless crime like this is a tragedy.''
Pakistani-Americans in MetroWest said Bhutto, while an imperfect figure, represented some of her country's best hopes for democracy, reform and moderate politics. With her death, they worried yesterday about the uncertain future of the country, how President Pervez Musharraf would react, and the fate of parliamentary elections planned next month.
``A voice of unity obviously was shattered with that bomb,'' said Tahir Ali, a Westborough resident and former chairman of the state chapter of the American-Muslim Alliance.
Bhutto had many friends in Greater Boston's large Pakistani-American community and she visited often, said Barry Hoffman, consulate general of Pakistan for the Boston area. She earned an undergraduate degree and honorary doctorate from Harvard, he said.
``We had dinner only about a couple of months ago,'' said Hoffman, whose office is in Westwood. ``She was going back and it was going to be a real test for democracy.''
He compared Bhutto to President John F. Kennedy -- an attractive candidate with a ``lovely'' family and wealthy background, who felt a pull to politics.
``I think she felt it was her destiny,'' Hoffman said.
Even critics of Bhutto were saddened by her death.
``I can't say I was a big fan of Ms. Bhutto,'' said Framingham's Parwez Wahid, chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and a member of the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland. ``There was quite a bit of disappointment in her performance as prime minister the first two times.''
Still, he said, Musharraf's government seems to have run its course, and it lent him some legitimacy when he allowed Bhutto to return.
``There was still a belief she might be the best hope,'' said Wahid, who was born in Pakistan but has lived most of his life in the United States. ``I just hope in the aftermath there will be some progress.''
``She still had the sympathies of the public,'' Jafri said.
The place where Bhutto was killed held symbolic importance, Jafri and Ali said. One of Pakistan's founders, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated in the same park in 1951. Bhutto's father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was executed in the same city after a military coup in 1979.
``The government had warned her about assassinations. ... She risked her life to restore democracy in the country,'' Ali said. ``This has to be an act of aggression or an act of somebody who's against restoring democracy.''
Bhutto's return was ``a ray of hope'' as fair and open elections approached, but it also might have been a miscalculation on her part, Jafri said.
``The fundamentalists and the extremists had been warning her for some time,'' he said. ``This is not the same Pakistan she left behind.''
Her killing shows ``a lack of tolerance, lack of understanding,'' and an inability to compromise, he said.
Religious fundamentalists are less than 10 percent of Pakistan's population, and extremists even less, Hoffman said.
``It doesn't take many people to disrupt,'' he said.
The United States needs more than ever to help Pakistan put an end to a ``Taliban form of justice,'' Jafri said. ``It's very important we look at this as a global problem and partnership.''
No one ventured a guess on how Musharraf, who only recently lifted a state of emergency criticized by Bhutto, would react. Musharraf blamed her death on terrorists and urged calm, while some in Pakistan in turn criticized him.
``This is going to be the defining moment of Musharraf's government,'' Jafri said.
Ali wondered who would take the reins of Bhutto's party now, speculating that its leaders might look to another member of her extended family.
He said he believes violence in reaction to Bhutto's death is not widespread. Wahid also said a relative in Pakistan told his wife that business continues, despite some violent protests.
``That's a normal way of people showing anger in situations like this,'' Ali said of television images of burning cars.
But he acknowledged that civil unrest in Pakistan has been growing. ``How bad it is going to become is a matter we have to see,'' Ali said.
David Riley can be reached at 508-626-3919 or firstname.lastname@example.org.