Area Pakistanis Beset by Grief, Apprehension

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto yesterday sent waves of shock and sorrow through members of the Washington region's Pakistani community, many of whom predicted that the attack would trigger violence that could derail upcoming elections and the nation's fragile move toward democracy.

"It's a show of power, a brute sort of terrorism. And in that atmosphere, it's more likely that there will be more violence," said Jamshed Uppal, 59, a Catholic University finance professor who has lived in the United States for 22 years. "The whole future of the country is at stake right now."

Thousands of Pakistani emigres live in the Washington area. Many follow their homeland's tumultuous political situation and receive dispatches through text messages and phone calls. They have watched with increasing worry since November, when President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule, which was lifted six weeks later.

Yesterday, many praised Bhutto as a charismatic, charming and outspoken leader. Her death represents the end of a political dynasty, they said, and the demise of a politician they viewed as courageous for defying security concerns to speak publicly in support of a more democratic and secular Pakistan.

Amina Khan, a District lawyer, recalled the pride she felt when Bhutto was elected prime minister. But Khan said her faith in Bhutto was cemented when she saw the opposition leader give a speech this year at Johns Hopkins University. Bhutto spoke of her record in office and her commitment to fighting terrorism in Pakistan, Khan said.

"I really believe from hearing the tone of her voice, and the fervor of her voice, that it was a renewed and a very courageous leader," Khan, 38, said. "That's why I think this is especially sad. Because she was, I think, a great leader-in-the-making this time around."

Local Pakistanis' grief was mixed with uncertainty about what lies ahead, although most predicted it would involve more bloodshed. Khan said questions were swirling in her mind: How would Musharraf respond? Who would lead Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party? How would an election take place amid such chaos?

Like others interviewed, Khan was adamant that parliamentary elections must happen. But she said she feared that Musharraf would rush unmonitored elections, retain curbs on the media and unfairly keep himself him in power.

"Having those elections within two weeks of her assassination would be very premature," Khan said.

Asif Shah, a District lawyer who has petitioned Musharraf's government to reinstate deposed judges and hold free and fair elections, said the vote should take place as planned Jan. 8. Shah called himself a student of democracies, which, he said, must "stick to" civil institutions and systems.

"The elections should go on, definitely, even in the threat of violence," Shah, 58, said. "To give up on them would be to give up on institution-building."

Bhutto's killing was not entirely unexpected, some said, given her brush with death in a bombing in October, but it was nevertheless astounding.

"People didn't think it would go that far," Uppal said. "It's a tragedy."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company