Pakistani community reels with Benazir Bhutto’s death
Westwood’s Pakistani community was saddened Thursday by the assasinaton of Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, casting that nation’s future in an uncertain light.
Barry Hoffman, 71, of Westwood, honorary consulate general of Pakistan for the Boston area, a friend of Bhutto’s, called the assassination a blow to the democratic process in the fledgling country.
“I was on my exercise machine (treadmill) watching CNN when I saw the news flash” today at 8:30 a.m., he said when contacted at his Westwood office on Clapboardtree Street. At first the report was that Bhutto had been wounded in an attack that involved a bomb and gunshots after a rally in Pakistan, he said. Later, he learned that the attack had killed her.
Then his phone started ringing.
“We’ve gotten a number of calls from people in the community expressing sorrow,” Hoffman said, “It was a shock. Here was a woman who had so much to live for.”
Though there was little doubt, he called the Pakistani embassy and confirmed the news. He described the atmosphere as “in turmoil.”
Pakistan, he said, is only 60 years old, but it was moving toward democracy. Bhutto, a candidate with the Pakistan People’s Party, also the party of her father, the late, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto, gave hope to a lot of people, he said. Bhutto, a liberal democrat, was a contender for parliamentary elections to be held Jan. 8.
“I don’t know what will happen in Pakistan now,” Hoffman said.
Bhutto was prime minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 until 1996. Both terms ended with the dismissal of her government under charges of corruption, according to the Pakistan background notes at the U.S. Department of State Web site, http://www.state.gov. The site also reports she was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.
Hoffman was friends with Bhutto and her father, he said. Hoffman and Zulfikar met 32 years ago, when the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Yaqub-Khan, visited Boston. The two were introduced, he said, and he was offered a position as an honorary diplomat for Pakistan in New England.
Often, he said, younger countries rely on citizens of other nations to represent them when there are too few native diplomats to deploy abroad. Hoffman, a U.S. native, has been performing that role for Pakistan, including trade negotiations and counseling for visiting Pakistani students, for the last 32 years.
Benazir Bhutto visited Hoffman’s Westwood home for dinner last year, he said, and spoke of her plans to return to Pakistan after being exiled.
“She was very much looking forward to going back,” Hoffman said. She didn’t discuss the danger that posed to her, he said, “But it (the risk) was evident. It was dangerous, what she was doing, and she knew it,” he said.
Bhutto was a graduate of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and spoke there frequently. She also spoke at World Boston, an organization of people interested in world affairs.
“She had a lot of support in this area,” Hoffman said.
Nigar Khan of Westwood was one of the people expressing that support today. Her sister called from Pakistan this morning, she said, crying about the assassination.
“She said, ‘They killed her! They killed her!’” Khan said. The news was very bad, Khan said, as Bhutto’s candidacy was the latest in a string of good developments for Pakistan, including President Pervez Musharraf’s conversion to a civilian leader, the coming elections, a resurging economy, improvements in education and Pakistani students learning abroad to bring their knowledge home.
“So, the country was going on the right path,” Khan said. But now, she said, the country’s future seems less optimistic. Certainly, she said, there isn’t anyone who could follow in Bhutto’s footsteps.
“I don’t see anybody over there for her caliber and knowledge,” Khan said. Bhutto was a moderate, and a strong alternative to religious extremists. “I don’t want to see that kind of people ruling Pakistan,” said Khan, whose brothers also live in the country.
Khan has lived in the U.S. since 1983, but still visits her family in Pakistan every two years. Pakistan’s potential is bright, she said, but at the present, the country’s condition is very delicate.
Khan’s uncle, Amin Khan, owns a home in Westwood but lives in Dover. He said he didn’t think Bhutto did a good job during her time as prime minister, and wouldn’t have been the best choice for voters. Nonetheless, he said, “It’s a very sad, sad day for Pakistan.”