Around the Inland Northwest on Thursday, politicians, professors and those with ties to Pakistan expressed shock over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and concern about how her death will affect the Middle East as well as the United States.
“It’s a sad day for Pakistan,” said S.M. Ghazanfar, a Pakistan native and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Idaho. “Whatever has happened certainly is not very good for us here in this country. … This does not help the cause of getting along. It makes more of a bipolar world.”
Ghazanfar said Bhutto was cursed with a “double whammy” of being both a woman and a rather liberal, Westernized political figure in Islamic society.
“On top of that, you have so much extremism,” he said. “The bottom line is it’s a sad, sad situation.”
John Roskelley, a former Spokane County commissioner and well-known mountain climber, spent many months at a time in Pakistan in the 1970s and early 1980s. His climbing expeditions took him mostly to the backcountry there, but he said the trips gave him a sense of the country’s people and culture.
“With Bhutto’s popularity, it’s going to turn that country upside down for a bit,” Roskelley said. “We have not done our homework in Iraq, Iran, the Middle East. It just seems like the United States keeps making all the wrong moves. We just think we can run over there and force democracy on these people.”
Roskelley was in Pakistan in July 1977 when General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq proclaimed martial law after overthrowing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s father.
“We had to stay in our rooms for a while,” he recalled.
Later, Roskelley met the general at an embassy party.
“He wanted to meet someone who had summitted K2,” Roskelley said. “I actually felt very uncomfortable with Zia being a military ruler and forcing a coup on the country … This is the way governments change over there.”
There’s no way to know whether Bhutto’s gender played a role in her death, but Noël Sturgeon, chairwoman and professor in the women’s studies department at Washington State University, said the assassination highlights the precarious place of women in politics.
“She’s a pretty complicated figure,” Sturgeon said. “Women politicians are complex figures just as men are. They come from all political positions. There’s no guarantee that a woman political leader will necessarily express what people might think of as female values.
“She was a very smart, complex and complicated person.”
Also on Thursday, Inland Northwest politicians worried how Bhutto’s assassination will affect international relations.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington met Bhutto several years ago and was struck by her courage and determination. Now, she fears the death will have a ripple effect around the world.
“On a larger scale this violence and instability increases my concern that our troops and infrastructure are being used to police a civil war in Iraq,” Murray said in a statement. “Today’s tragedy should serve as a reminder that we must refocus on winning the broader war on terror.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington expressed a similar concern: “Growing instability,” Cantwell said in a statement, “is bad for the region and will have consequences for the United States.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington called Bhutto “a true defender of freedom.”
“Benazir Bhutto’s life ended while standing for what she believed in – a free and democratic Pakistan,” McMorris Rodgers said in a statement. “This tragedy is a strong reminder that we must remain vigilant to defeat terrorist extremists and to defend democracy around the world.”