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PERSIAN GULF: Bhutto's death shakes the region

BhuttoBenazir Bhutto’s assassination in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Thursday reverberated powerfully in the oil-rich Persian Gulf kingdoms, where many Pakistani and other South Asian expatriates live and work.

Impoverished workers from that region constitute the main labor force driving the Gulf’s booming construction works. The Gulf, emerging as the Middle East's services and financial hub, also attracts skilled and educated engineers, managers and scholars from the South Asian subcontinent.

The Gulf News, a United Arab Emirates English-language daily, said the killing stunned local expatriates. "Pakistanis in the UAE have reacted with shock and grief to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and described her demise as a national tragedy," the paper reported.

The article said that most Pakistani expatriates held Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf responsible for the killing and demanded his resignation. 

The Khaleej Times, another UAE newspaper, described in moving detail the funeral prayer gatherings held for Bhutto in Dubai, where the Islamic world's first female prime minister had lived in self-imposed exile from 1998 until this year:

Emotional scenes were seen yesterday at a large gathering of the Pakistani community which was mourning the untimely death of former prime minister and Pakistan People's Party chairperson Benazir Bhutto.... They cried, hugged each other and remembered the eight years that they had spent close to their leader while she was living in Dubai. "We have lost everything," they said with tears flowing down their cheeks.

In an official statement illustrating the ties between Pakistan and the Gulf, especially during Bhutto’s stay in Dubai, Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan called Bhutto a "great friend" of his country. "I can't find words to express our condemnation for this criminal and cowardly act," he said.

Bhutto left Dubai in October for Karachi to prepare for the 2008 national elections. Editorials across the Gulf cast doubt over the possibility of holding the vote, scheduled for Jan. 8. The Khaleej Times urged a delay:

It seems that the Jan 8 general election, too, will not go ahead as planned. With Benazir Bhutto buried and Nawaz Sharif no longer contesting, there is simply no way the contest can provide what it was designed to — democracy and return of calm to Pakistan’s troubled polity.

But an editorial in the UAE’s Gulf News accused Islamic radicals of killing Bhutto and encouraged elections despite the tragedy:

She knew she could not afford to stay home as she had been told by the religious extremists who vowed to kill her. "No Muslim would dare to kill a woman," she recently mused in an interview with Gulf News. But they did. And their aim is to sabotage any plan to bring back any form of democracy to Pakistan. Therefore, they should not succeed.... The elections must go on. The government and the political parties, including Bhutto's, owe it to her to stick to the scheduled date of the polls.

Other commentators in Gulf newspapers linked the Muslim extremism sweeping Pakistan and violent fundamentalism in the Arab world. "Whatever the motive, the facts indicate that a suicide had taken place following the attack, a modus operandi used in recent times by those extremists following a twisted form of ideology," said a piece in the Arab News, an English-language Saudi paper:

It is not just in Pakistan, but across the Middle East that this phenomenon has taken root to express opposition to a concept or idea that is not palatable to the extremist ideology. We have in our own country witnessed how terrorists try to impose their own interpretation of religion through violence resulting in the loss of many innocent lives.

— Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: A Supporter of Benazir Bhutto, a two-time prime minister of Pakistan, cries as he writes in a condolence book at the Pakistani Association in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which is home to many Pakistani expatriates. Credit: EPA / Ali Haider

Comments () | Archives (2)

Benazir Bhutto....on this first day of the New Year 2008...I wanted to make a tribute to a very special lady and leader of her country, Pakistan...that we will never forget the strength, compasion and leadership of what could have made such a positive difference in the daily lives of her people, her family and all of us that will standup and defend our Country for democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law. I remember the dark days after we lost President John Kennedy and believe she is equal in everyway we can measure one's independence...and giving of one self for a better cause besides our own personal ambitions...but giving from the heart to others less fortunate and in real need.

She has truly inspired so many people...It is not often that a person can offer so much hope to the World.

The murder bombers and terrorists are trying to influence their families to believe that success (even in murder) is the evidence of Allah's hand guiding them. The prosperity that Islamic society enjoys (because of oil) will end in this century. These acts are a result of the intoxication of wealth. When the prosperity ends, these irrational attempts to provide the explanation for prosperity will end as well. Those who abhor violence ought to be seeking alternative energy supplies. Excessive use of oil and terrorism are inextricably linked!


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