Shock, horror in Southland over slaying

Times Staff Writer

Javid Merchant was still asleep when his uncle called early Thursday from Karachi to tell him Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated.

“There’s fires, there’s riots,” Merchant’s uncle told him during their brief conversation. His uncle promised to call back when things calmed down.

Merchant, 34, from India, is visiting family in Los Angeles over the holidays. But most of his relatives, he said, live in Pakistan and he is worried about their safety.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Merchant said about the assassination of the former prime minister. “She was a wonderful person and a great leader.”

In Inglewood, Malik Kamar, manager of the Pakistani and Indian restaurant Bilal Halal, also was stunned by the news. He said he was deeply concerned about the increasing instability in his homeland.


“I didn’t believe this was happening,” said Kamar, who came to the United States 10 years ago from an area near Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan where Bhutto was killed. “I turned the television on to CNN, but I didn’t believe it.”

The same sentiment was repeated throughout the Pakistani community in Los Angeles County early Thursday as word spread about Bhutto’s death.

“There’s a great deal of shock and horror,” said Edina Lekovic, communications director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. “We’ve all witnessed the attempted assassinations in the last few months, but I think there was a level of disbelief that it actually took place . . . the worst fear realized.”

There are between 150,000 and 200,000 Pakistanis living on the West Coast, most of them in Southern California, said Syed Ibne Abbas, Pakistan’s consul general in Los Angeles.

“We are saddened, it is a national tragedy,” Abbas said of Bhutto’s assassination, declining further comment.

He said the consulate would have a condolence book for the public.

The scene at the consulate on Wilshire Boulevard was quiet Thursday, unlike last month, when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s government placed Bhutto under house arrest to prevent a planned protest against his emergency rule. Local Pakistanis held their own demonstration at the consulate.

Lekovic said MPAC has organized a special service during prayers today at the Islamic Center of Southern California where the sermon will be focused on Bhutto’s assassination. The service is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the center, 434 S. Vermont Ave.

At a news conference afterward, local Muslim leaders will talk about the implications of Bhutto’s death.

“As American Muslims, what we want to see is democracy to be promoted and upheld in Pakistan,” Lekovic said. “We don’t want to see democracy be the greatest casualty.”