Bhutto's Death Is 'Wake-Up Call to Muslims,' Group Says

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Initial reaction to the death of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was unanimous in its condemnation of the "senseless attack" that took her life, and one Muslim group on Thursday claimed that with her passing, "a light has been snuffed out."

"Benazir Bhutto was one of the most prominent Muslim women in the world," said Nainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, in a statement released on Thursday. Her death is "a wake-up call to Muslims and all people of conscience."

The 54-year-old former official "was a model of independence and courage for Muslim women around the world," Al-Suwaij stated. "After she was nearly killed upon her recent return to Pakistan, she could have taken a safe exit. Instead, she chose to stand up and speak out despite the risks.

"Young Muslim women around the world should not let this murder dissuade them from speaking out and claiming their rightful place as equals in society," he added.

"We extend our condolences to Bhutto's family and to the families of all the people murdered and maimed in the wave of recent suicide bombings around the world," said Al-Suwaij, whose group describes itself as "a civil-rights organization promoting tolerance and the exchange of ideas among Muslims and between other peoples."

Bhutto was struck down Thursday in a suicide attack that also killed at least 20 others at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. Having served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996, she returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18. Her homecoming parade in Karachi was also targeted by a suicide attacker who killed more than 140 people but failed to reach Bhutto.

Also expressing condolences for Bhutto's family, "as well as to the families of all those who lost their lives in this senseless attack," was U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who said in a statement of his own that he was "deeply shocked" by news of the attack.

"Benazir Bhutto showed in her words and actions a deep commitment to her country," Miliband stated. "She knew the risks of her return to campaign but was convinced that her country needed her.

"This is a time for restraint but also unity," he noted. "All those committed to a stable future for Pakistan will condemn without qualification all violence perpetrated against innocent people.

"In targeting Benazir Bhutto, extremist groups have in their sights all those committed to democratic processes in Pakistan," Miliband added. "They cannot and must not succeed.

"The large Pakistani community in the United Kingdom will be gravely concerned about these latest developments," he noted. "Let me reassure them that the U.K. government will continue to work with all those who want to build a peaceful and democratic Pakistan."

Back in the U.S., Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations, called Thursday "a sorrowful day for Pakistan and for people of good will across the globe."

Leahy also expressed concern that the Jan. 8 election in Pakistan take place as scheduled despite Bhutto's death.

"This election is important in what it will show about the vigor of democratic institutions in Pakistan," he said in a news release, because "the lack of real democracy and the crippling of Pakistan's judiciary have been grave setbacks."

"Earlier protests by Pakistan's lawyers in defense of the rule of law helped show the world what is at stake, and now, with this tragedy, the whole world again is watching Pakistan," Leahy stated.

"The people of Pakistan deserve to know that the people of the United States stand with them as they struggle to restore constitutional government and to prevail over thuggery," he said.

Noting that President Bush Wednesday signed an appropriations bill that conditions $50 million of U.S. military aid to Pakistan on progress in restoring constitutional government, Leahy added that Pakistanis "will want to know that our military aid is no longer blind to their aspirations."

"And they need to know that we share their profound sense of loss," he added.

Also reacting to Bhutto's death was Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who is running for the White House in next year's election.

"This is a very dangerous moment for the world," he said in a news release. "Prime Minister Bhutto represented the forces of reform and the hope for an end to repression in a troubled region, and her death is a major loss to those efforts."

Kucinich stated that Thursday's "tragic loss" also underscores the need for the U.S. "to adopt a new foreign policy toward the entire region because our current policy is all wrong. Our interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan has opened wide the doors of repression and violence.

"At this very moment, we should be working with leaders of the region to convene a meeting at the highest levels to begin a new effort towards stabilization and peace," he added.

See Related Article:
Bush Urges Pakistan to 'Continue the Democratic Process' (Dec. 27, 2007)

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