Friday, December 28, 2007

Alaska Pakistanis React To Assassination Of Former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto

The Pakistani presence in Anchorage, Alaska, is negligible - no more than 15 families at most, according to Anchorage residents Umair Iqbal and Reem Sheikh, both originally from Pakistan. Their reactions to the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were aired December 27th, 2007 on KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage.

Iqbal, a student at the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA), told KTUU, "I woke up at 5 o'clock to get some water and my father was watching TV and he told me and all of a sudden my heart sank when I found out she died". Iqbal also reflected about Bhutto herself. "For me, she was all about democracy, freedom and the change that Pakistan and that region desperately needs. She was a Muslim who was a good person and that's also something that's terribly needed in the world -- so it's a huge tragedy", said Iqbal.

Reem Sheikh, who works at the Alaska Native Medical Center, said, "I don't have words to express what her image was to Pakistani women, you know, to have the education she had and to actually take the initiative to go back to her motherland and give it back to the people".

Both fear that Bhutto's assassination will lead to violence in the country and set back democratic reforms.

In summary, Bhutto was addressing more than 5,000 supporters Thursday in Rawalpindi. Discussing the insurgency, Bhutto dismissed the notion that Pakistan needed foreigners to help quell resurgent militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida in the area bordering Afghanistan. "Why should foreign troops come in? We can take care of this, I can take care of this, you can take care of this," she said.

As Bhutto left the rally in a white SUV, youths chanted her name and supportive slogans, said Sardar Qamar Hayyat, an official from Bhutto's party who was about 10 yards away. Despite the danger of physical exposure, a smiling Bhutto stuck her head out of the sunroof and responded, he said. "Then I saw a thin young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away. That was the time when I heard a blast and fell down," Hayyat said.

Bhutto was rushed into surgery. A doctor on the surgical team said a bullet in the back of her neck damaged her spinal cord before exiting from the side of her head. Another bullet pierced the back of her shoulder and came out through her chest, he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. She was given an open-heart massage, but the spinal cord damage was too great, he said. "At 6:16 p.m. she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital. Hours later, supporters carried Bhutto's body out of the hospital in a plain wooden coffin and sent it for burial in her ancestral home near the southern city of Larkana. Violence flared up nationwide, claiming at least nine victims.

Bhutto, who was married with three children, had returned to Pakistan from nearly a decade in exile on October 18th, and her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker, who killed more than 140 people. She narrowly escaped injury.

The FBI has informed U.S. law enforcement, meanwhile, that al-Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the attack, which also killed as many as 20 other people.

Pakistan Opposition Leader Nawaz Sharif said it was the "gloomiest day in the history of this country."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has promised an investigation of her murder. But his government blamed the many followers of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and promised the crackdown that Bhutto was demanding.

President Bush telephoned Musharraf and said the country stands "with the people of Pakistan and their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism."

Another Anchorage resident, who is not a Pakistani, offered some expertise. Alaska State Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) just spent a week in Pakistan as a delegate for the American council of young political leaders. "With the loss of Bhutto this is going to cause -- I don't know how else to say this -- it's going to be a huge setback for democracy in Pakistan," Wielechowski said. "I just foresee a tremendous amount of chaos in that country leading up to the elections and probably, unfortunately, following the elections." But Wielechowski also offered a message of hope to the Pakistanis. "I only hope that people grow stronger from what happened and not take it in a negative connotation and not step back from democracy and progressing Pakistan into a more idealistic, moderate nation," he concluded.

Reuters offers a sound analysis of the short term implications of this attack:

(1). For a January 8th general election: Prospects for the election being held on time do not look good, especially with the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif announcing a boycott. Before Bhutto's assassination, the vote was seen as a three-way race between Bhutto, Sharif's party and a party that supports President Pervez Musharraf. None was expected to win a majority. Musharraf made no mention of the election when he made a brief address to the nation blaming Bhutto's killing on terrorists and calling for unity and support.

(2). For Musharraf: Bhutto's death, while removing an old rival, is likely to lead to even greater pressure on Musharraf who has seen his popularity slide this year. Musharraf was pinning his hopes on a smooth, broadly accepted election with the party that backs him winning enough seats to form a coalition. Many Pakistanis, who relish conspiracy theories, are likely to suspect government involvement, or blame it for failing to provide sufficient security, even if the evidence eventually points to the hand of Islamist militants, who have at least twice tried to kill the president in bomb attacks.

(3). For Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party: Bhutto's party, founded by her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, has been widely seen as a one-person party. In the absence of a strong political figure in Bhutto's family, or in the party, her Pakistan People's Party could split into factions.

(4). For the U.S.-led war on terrorism: Bhutto was a staunch ally of the United States and had spoken out strongly of the need to fight militancy in her election campaign speeches. The United States had hoped the liberal-minded Musharraf and Bhutto might have shared power and formed a solid bulwark against militancy. Al Qaeda and allied militants are likely to take welcome her death.

One other security concern is the safety and ultimate disposition of Pakistan's estimated 50-75 nuclear weapons. On December 19th, WorldNetDaily published a story discussing how much al-Qaeda wants to get its hands on nukes. That was BEFORE the Benazir assassination. Those security concerns have just increased exponentially.

According to a CBS News report, the weapons are stored in facilities which the U.S. helped to design to make as secure as possible. The weapons consist of bombs for aircraft and warheads for missiles, but they are stored in a disassembled form as an additional fail-safe. That would first have to be assembled before it would be a true nuclear weapon ready to go off. U.S. Special Forces can be deployed into Pakistan to take control of the weapons if necessary.

However, our ability to respond militarily is not limitless. Not only have 442 F-15s been grounded (some indefinitely) for possible structural defects, but the U.S. Navy has grounded 39 of its 161 P-3 anti-sub patrol aircraft guessed it, possible structural defects. The affected aircraft are expected to be out of service from 18 to 24 months. In short, our hardware is beginning to fall apart because of sustained overuse. Perhaps if we had stuck to the original mission of concentrating on Afghanistan and positioning ourselves for cross-border operations into the insurgent part of Afghanistan instead of taking that "right turn" and embarking on a four-year "crusade for democracy" in Iraq, we wouldn't face that problem.


  1. Yeah right. I don't know why but knowing that there is a small group of Pakistanis in far off Alaska gives me a cozy feeling.