LA’s Pakistani community shocked over Bhutto assassination

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson“I started getting calls telling me of her death around 5:15 (a.m.),” said Syed Ashraf Ali, president of the Pakistani American Arts Council in Los Angeles. “These are very, very truly tragic events. Everyone knew she was in danger but, still, it’s shocking.” By midmorning, the Pakistani Consulate’s phones were jammed with calls as officials scrambled to make sense of what Pakistani Consul K.K. Ahsan Wagan called “a national tragedy.” Pakistan already is in the throes of the Islamic prerequisite three days of mourning for its former prime minister. And for dozens of Southern California Pakistani-Americans who had returned to their homeland for the upcoming elections, the shock was felt firsthand. Imam Qazifaz Ullah of the Islamic Center of Northridge has been on pilgrimage in Pakistan along with a large group from his Granada Hills-based mosque. Assassinated Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was remembered Thursday by countrymen in Southern California as a charismatic figure who raised expectations but whose family has been plagued by tragedy. “Her father was assassinated and so were two brothers – her whole family has been wiped out just like the Kennedys,” said Los Angeles Pakistani-American businessman Yaqub Dada, a longtime personal friend of the Bhutto family. “Why? Only God knows the truth, but, basically, everything is related to power and nothing else.” Dada, who attended high school and college with Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was among some 40,000 Pakistani-Americans in Southern California left shocked and dismayed by news of the assassination. “I spoke with him last night, just hours before the assassination, so I’m sure he is stunned by this tragedy,” said Ullah’s daughter, Bareera Qazi. Qazi, a 15-year-old student at Granada Hills Charter School, said she was impressed to learn Bhutto had been her country’s first woman prime minister, as well as the world’s first woman Muslim leader. “She was really determined to do something good for her country,” said Qazi. Several Southern California-based members of the Pakistan People’s Party, of which Bhutto was head, have also been in Pakistan helping campaign for the Jan. 8 elections. “We still are numb and can’t believe this has happened,” Adnan Shafiq, a Riverside resident and a senior vice president with the Pakistan People’s Party’s Southern California chapter, said in a call from Punjab. Shafiq and other party members were especially hard-hit by the assassination. “She was our only hope,” said Shafiq. “I don’t know what will happen now.” But in Los Angeles, many Pakistani-Americans still expressed hope that their homeland will continue moving toward democracy and away from military rule. “I do feel that processes that are in place will continue and that this will only be a temporary setback,” said Torrance electronics businessman Lodhiz Pervaiz. “I personally feel that we will see a good democratic process going forward, and I hope the elections are not put off.” Some, though, were not as optimistic. “I’m afraid the democratic system has taken a back seat over there,” said Adnan Khan, a Walnut resident and a businessman in the medical-technology field. “Pakistan is so much a part of the War on Terror that right now it seems that while much of the world is fighting the War on Terror, Pakistanis are fighting with each other.” Still, most local Pakistani-Americans appeared hesitant to join many of their countrymen in Pakistan and blame Bhutto’s death on President Pervez Musharraf, who said Thursday that the assassination was the work of terrorists. Instead, some Pakistani-Americans wondered about the wisdom of Bhutto’s return to her country after years in exile. “The situation there was dangerous for her,” said Pervaiz. “It was especially so in that she was moving out so freely among the people.” Others like Ashraf Ali were even more direct: “She didn’t know the ground realities of Pakistan that have changed dramatically since 9-11.” Like Dada, Ashraf Ali was educated at PAF Model School and St. Patrick’s College in Karachi where Bhutto’s husband also studied. And he said he believes Pakistani expatriates fail to understand the changes in their homeland. “Since 9-11, Pakistan has had all kinds of terrorists coming in from other countries, and it has changed the gun culture,” he said. “People who have been out of the country a long time don’t realize it. There’s a drug culture that has been channeled out of Afghanistan to Pakistan.” For Dada, his friend’s assassination is particularly disturbing because he feels that despite Bhutto’s intelligence and sophistication, she was a victim of hubris – the belief that her charisma, popularity and political ego protected her. “She was such an intelligent lady but at the same time power-hungry,” said Dada, who on Thursday tried unsuccessfully to reach Ali Zardari. “It’s beyond understanding. Part of you doesn’t want to accept the reality of what has happened.” Pakistanis have been a growing presence in Southern California since the late 1960s when the United States abolished a national-origins quota system and instituted a system with a preference for skilled professionals. The result, according to many Pakistani-Americans, is a heavy presence of business people in electronics and other highly skilled professions – with scattered pockets of Pakistanis in the Northridge-Granada Hills area, the Westside, the South Bay, Pasadena and parts of the San Gabriel Valley. Last year, several hundred Los Angeles-area Pakistani-American businessmen were among those attending a Los Angeles World Affairs Council luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel to hear a speech by a former governor of the Balochistan province of Pakistan. “He brought slide shows and videos, and it opened some eyes,” says Ashraf Ali. “The problem was clear: Drugs bring in guns, guns bring in more problems and unless you take care of the drugs, nothing will be settled.” And, for now, say many Pakistani-Americans in Los Angeles, one voice that might have brought change has been silenced. “She had so much self-confidence,” recalls her longtime friend Dada. “So much that she wouldn’t listen to warnings. Even this morning, listening to the Pakistani channel, I heard that she was warned not to do the speech.” [email protected] 818-713-3761160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more