Bhutto had achieved popularity for her dynamism but was criticised for bad governance.
|Bhutto described her supporters as the “real” Pakistan [AFP]|
Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, says she hopes she can “live up to the expectations” of her supporters after ending eight years of self-exile.
An estimated 250,000 people packed the streets of Karachi, the country’s biggest city and a stronghold of Bhutto’s Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP) – to celebrate her return.
“I am thankful to God, I am very happy that I’m back in my country and I was dreaming of this day,” a tearful Bhutto said as she arrived from Dubai on Thursday.
Bhutto has returned to Pakistan to lead the PPP in forthcoming national elections that are aimed at returning the country to civilian rule.
“These people are the real Pakistan, the decent and hardworking middle and working classes who want to be in power so they can build a moderate, modern nation where everyone has equality,” she said.
‘Free and fair’
Bhutto stood on a truck designed to withstand a bomb attack as it edged through the throng outside the airport, ignoring police advice to keep behind its bullet proof glass.
“Pakistan needs a military leader who can control both civil and possible military extremism”
Creative_person01, Islamabad, Pakistan
“Now that the people have given their verdict, it is necessary that the elections should be free and fair,” she said before setting off at the head of a procession through Karachi that was likely to last for hours.
“I love Benazir and we are here to safeguard her life. I can sacrifice my life for her,” said Abdul Majid Mirani, a guard in a 5,000-strong private army tasked with protecting her.
While Karachi came to a standstill for Bhutto’s homecoming, Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, spent the morning at his army offices in Rawalpindi, with no official engagements scheduled, an aide said.
Bhutto left Pakistan in 1999 to avoid corruption charges during her second term as prime minister.
But there is strong speculation Musharraf will end up sharing power with Bhutto after national elections due in early January.
The US is believed to have encouraged their alliance in order to keep Pakistan, its ally, committed to fighting al-Qaeda and supportive of Nato’s work in Afghanistan.
|An estimated quarter of a million
people greeted Bhutto [AFP]
Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad, says it was business as usual in Pakistan’s capital on Thursday and Bhutto’s return may further highlight ideological divisions within Pakistani society.