To many Pakistani-Americans, Benazir Bhutto has forever been transformed into a Robert Kennedy-like figure: An idealistic candidate assassinated on the campaign trail to democracy.

From Philadelphia to New York City, Pakistani-Americans yesterday were glued to their televisions, trying to make sense of the latest devastating news from their troubled homeland.

"It's really shocking news, not only for people who loved Bhutto, but also for people who didn't like her," said Mohammad Sabir, owner of Kabobeesh, a Pakistani kabobs restaurant on Chestnut Street near 42nd in University City. "Nobody wanted her to die, because she was a great leader and a daughter of a great leader."

Sabir, who has been in business eight years and in the U.S. for 11 years, said that although he is not politically minded, the assassination of the former prime minister drew him to GEO, a Pakistan news channel to which he subscribes.

"I talked to my cousins in Pakistan," said Sabir, 47. "They said the situation is very, very bad even though [the assassination] was at night. They said by the day, it will be [worse]. No businesses or shops will be open."

Mahammed Farooqi, editor-in- chief of the Pakistan Post, published in Queens, N.Y., said that the assassination has stunned the Pakistani-American community.

"Everyone is crying," he said. "Everyone is feeling uncertainty. Everyone is shocked.

"We don't know how to speak properly," he said, adding that Bhutto led all others in Pakistan in speaking out against terrorism.

Ismat Shah, a professor of physics at the University of Delaware in Newark, agreed.

"She was very vocal about the extreme religious groups, and she mentioned many times that [Pakistan President Pervez] Musharraf was not doing enough," he said.

"So, this was something that we knew people would try to do," he said of the assassination. "But the fact that it actually happened, that's the one that is the most shocking."

Shah said he believed that the nation's upcoming elections will have to be postponed due to the unrest, but he is hopeful that they eventually will be held.

An estimated 500,000 people of Pakistani descent are living in the United States, according to most estimates, with the largest communities in New York and New Jersey.

Zia Rahman, managing director and trustee of the Muslim American Community Association in Voorhees, N.J., said that although Bhutto's death will not have an economic or political impact on the state's Pakistani-American population, they are still concerned and shaken.

"Many of us have relatives back home, so if it impacts them it impacts us indirectly," he explained. "We want to see Pakistan become more stable and democratic. We want to see the military go to the barracks.

"If she [Bhutto] was in the election, she would have . . . made the system more democratic," said Rahman. "We were hoping for that, because now the military is running the show."

Now, for many, the burning issue is: What is to come?

"This is the million-dollar question," Farooqi said, "What is going to happen to Pakistan?" *