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New York's 'Little Pakistan' Focuses on Upcoming Elections

  • Nathan King

The assassination last month of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto shocked people around the world, including Pakistanis living in the United States. The largest concentration is in an area of Brooklyn, in New York City, known as "Little Pakistan." That community is now focused on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Pakistan and the 2008 presidential election in the United States. Nathan King reports.

Pakistanis gather for Friday prayers at the Makki Masjid mosque on Brooklyn's Coney Island Avenue. These days there is a lot of soul searching in New York's Little Pakistan.

In many shops, TV screens are switched to Pakistani news channels for reports on the heightened political tensions in Pakistan in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's death.

Mohammad Razvi is a local community leader with the Council of Peoples Organizations. He says everyone is hoping that Pakistan's elections, scheduled for February 18th, go ahead. "Elections have to continue. They cannot be delayed. Any delay is a scorn on democracy."

Razvi and his colleagues also have another election on their minds -- the U.S. presidential election in November.

His organization registers immigrant voters, and he says there has been an upsurge in those wanting to vote in the U.S.

One man, a U.S. citizen, says he is anxious to vote in his first presidential election. He says people in his homeland want to get to the ballot box, too. "The people in Pakistan -- they want to cast the vote, you know."

Not everyone in the Pakistani community here in New York is sure elections will change much in Pakistan.

Mohammad Farooqi is editor-in-chief of the Pakistan Post, the largest circulation Pakistani newspaper in the U.S.

He blames Mrs. Bhutto's assassination on Pakistan's military government and he says his homeland has a long way to go to become a democracy.

"We do not have ever -- ever -- the proper democracy in Pakistan. We are always trying to get that goal, but the army is always coming and will interrupt the system," Farooqi said. "Since 1947, look -- we have four martial laws, and I am living in New York, just because we have democracy, because of human rights because of the constitution of the U.S.A."

Farooqi says a lot is riding on the elections in Pakistan and he fears that if they do not go as planned, Pakistan could face further violence. "On the 18th of February, if we do not have a proper election and if we did not restore the democracy in a proper way, in all manners, by the international law, you are going to see a big problem in Pakistan, maybe civil war."

Both Pakistan's parliamentary elections and the U.S. presidential election are increasingly intertwined for this community. Leaders say Pakistanis who can vote in the U.S. realize that both America's and Pakistan's elections are crucial for Pakistan's future.

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