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Exiled Bhutto Set to Return to Pakistan


NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Karachi.


PHILIP REEVES: They've been gathering here for days. Benazir Bhutto's volunteers are relaxing over plates of rice and chicken after another morning preparing for her arrival. They see us and gather around. A wiry looking young man, his body wrapped in a party flag, is produced.

ASHRAQ KASHMIRLY: (Foreign language spoken)

REEVES: It's a PPP bike.

KASHMIRLY: People's - Pakistan...

REEVES: The journey took him a week, he says. He's hardly finished his story before Saruk Chand(ph) appears.

SARUK CHAND: About 300.

REEVES: Three hundred miles? You walked?

CHAND: Yes. Nine days.

REEVES: Nine days.


REEVES: You walked 300 miles in nine days?

CHAND: Nine days. Nine days, nine nights.

REEVES: Preparations for Bhutto's return are in full swing in Karachi. PPP volunteer Akba Midsa(ph) doesn't know exactly how many welcome home posters they've pasted up, but it's a lot.

AKBA MIDSA: Million of them. It is a grand section. Benazir Bhutto is a very popular leader.


REEVES: To get an idea of the lavish preparations that have been made for Benazir Bhutto's return, you only have to come here to a roundabout in the middle of Karachi. It is covered in large banners and posters that are welcoming Benazir back home to Pakistan. There are hundreds of them. Some of them are as large as 15 feet tall.


REEVES: Pakistan's been through this before.

AMOS: A taste, perhaps, of the reception awaiting Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. It's reported the crowd started gathering 24 hours in advance of her arrival at Loho.

REEVES: Anig Safa(ph), a P.R. executive, was there.

ANIG SAFA: It was amazing. It was huge. It was charged. It was emotional. It was really an experience out of this world.

TARIQ FATEMI: It was a different time and a different Benazir.

REEVES: Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, also remembers it.

FATEMI: She had come as this champion of democracy, as someone who are struggle against the military regime, and someone who had come in defiance of the military ruler.

REEVES: Unidentified Woman #2: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Ali Bhutto was hanged today on charges of ordering the murder of a political opponent. The execution was carried out by the regime of President Zia-ul-Haq, who led the army coup, which toppled Bhutto in 1977. The hanging occurred at 2 a.m.

KASIE MOHAMMED ANWAR: I was in jail. When he was executed (unintelligible) Peshawar jail.

REEVES: Lawyer Kaise Mohammed Anwa was a party activist and a loyal supporter of Benazir's father.

MOHAMMED ANWAR: That morning, somebody came and he told me that you will be freed now. The man they wanted to hang, they hanged him. Personally, I was shocked. I was shocked that a man has been hanged.

REEVES: Fatemi, the former ambassador, says to this day Benazir's power base is primarily founded on the legacy of her father, whom Zia executed on trumped-up charges.

FATEMI: That consolidated her vote bank. Then the fact that she put up a tremendous struggle against General Zia's regime, went to jail, fought for democracy, came to symbolize the yearning of the people of Pakistan for democracy and the rule of law. So she has a very committed, loyal, faithful vote bank, especially in certain parts of Punjab.

REEVES: Tariq Fatemi says this amnesty hasn't gone down well with most Pakistanis who see it as tailored specifically for her.

FATEMI: In fact, the word deal has now been adopted in the Pakistani languages now, and deal has now acquired a very unsavory and rather...


FATEMI: ...unpleasant connotation.

REEVES: When he heard about the amnesty, Kasie Mohammed Anwar, the lawyer and associate of Benazir Bhutto's father, was horrified. In protest, he resigned from Bhutto's party.

MOHAMMED ANWAR: I see it as advancing corruption. I'm teaching constitution since 22 years. With what face I should go to my students? How should I face them?

REEVES: But other issues are also in play. In Pakistan, politics is less about ideology than patronage. Bhutto's political future will be determined by her ability first to win parliamentary elections, and then, says opposition politician Tahir Hussein Mashidi(ph), on how well she delivers.

TAHIR HUSSEIN MASHIDI: Don't forget that she has been out in the cold for 10 years. The People's Party worker, he's been out in the cold for 10 years. Now is that payback time.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Karachi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.