Former Premier Bhutto to Return to Pakistan

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto says she will end her self-imposed exile and return to Pakistan on Oct. 18 in a bid to regain power.

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Pakistan's former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, is returning to her country next month, but it's unclear if she'll be returning as an opponent or an ally of the beleaguered military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf. The date of her return was announced at her party's headquarters in Pakistan's main cities.

NPR's Philip Reeves was at her office in Islamabad and sent this report.

PHILIP REEVES: It's a small but happy crowd. Bhutto's supporters have come to hear an announcement, for which they've waited a long time.

Unidentified Man: I want to give you the date, the date is 18th of October.

REEVES: Bhutto will fly in to Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, ending eight years of self-imposed exile.

(Soundbite of firecrackers)

REEVES: There's not much to celebrate in Pakistan these days. But as the sun sets over Islamabad, her party faithfuls do their best.

(Soundbite of firecrackers)

REEVES: Among them is Endha Baid(ph), who represents Bhutto's party in Pakistan's upper house.

Mr. ENDHA BAID (Upper House Representative, People's Party): The people of Pakistan have been waiting for her arrival for the last eight, nine years. Today, the party workers of the Pakistan People's Party and people in general will be extremely pleased.

REEVES: Bhutto and Musharraf have been trying to negotiate a power-sharing deal. The basic idea is that he keeps the president's job, but gives up his role as army chief. And she gets free and fair elections, and a shot at becoming prime minister for a third time. They haven't been able to nail it, though more talks are still possible.

Ms. BENAZIR BHUTTO (Former Prime Minister, Pakistan): The Pakistan People's Party has done its best to reach a facilitated and stable transfer to democracy.

REEVES: Today, Bhutto spoke to Pakistan's Dawn TV.

Ms. BHUTTO: Unfortunately, there are group of people around General Musharraf who are fearful of democracy and they have tried to sabotage this understanding.

REEVES: The people she's talking about are not the deal's only critics. Cameron Shaffi(ph) was Bhutto's press secretary in her first administration. These days, he cranks out newspaper columns explaining why he hates the Bhutto-Musharraf deal.

Mr. CAMERON SHAFFI (Former Press Secretary, Pakistan): Well, basically, just the fact that it's being made at all between a politician who I look upon as a dictator, whom I think is virtually dead in the water. And yet, here is this political party throwing him a lifeline.

REEVES: Bhutto is undeterred.

Ms. BHUTTO: The fact of the matter - which people don't like - is that the people of the country support me. They love me. They stand by me because I've fought for them.

REEVES: Bhutto's return will mark a significant change in Pakistan's political landscape, creating a counterweight to Musharraf and the army. But it might be problematic. The government, this week, deported another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, after he attempted to come home. The government says it won't do that Bhutto. However, without a deal with Musharraf, she may have to answer to corruption charges.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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