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Benazir Bhutto Set to Return to Pakistan

Exiled former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto is set to return to her homeland this week (October 18th) in a possible power sharing agreement with President Pervez Musharraf. For producer Chris Simkins, VOA's Melinda Smith profiles Benazir Bhutto's life.

Benazir Bhutto has lived abroad for much of her life, and has not been inside Pakistan since 1999 when she was forced into exile for a second time.

VOA Senior Correspondent Gary Thomas first met Ms. Bhutto 10 years earlier. He says her life changed after her father and Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was deposed in 1977 and executed two years later.

Thomas says, "Her father was arrested by a military ruler, Zia-ul Haq, who took over power in Pakistan and hanged her father and she herself spent some time in jail and under house arrest. That left a profound impression on her certainly in terms of her attitude towards military rulers and her ideas about what democracy is. There are ideas of western democracy, but they are certainly seen through the prism of a very personal vision of 'I am the one to implement that democracy'."

Ms. Bhutto last returned to Pakistan more than 20 years ago to lead a pro-democracy movement, and in 1988 became the first woman prime minister of a Muslim-majority country in modern times.

Lisa Curtis is a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. She says Ms. Bhutto understands her political base among low and middle income Pakistanis. "I think she does reach out to the people. She knows her constituents and she understands Pakistan and the various issues that face her constituents, she has to in order to get elected," says Curtis.

While prime minister, Ms. Bhutto made hunger and health care top priorities. She also is credited with bringing electricity to rural areas and led efforts to build schools across the country. But allegations of corruption tainted her time in office, and in 1990 her government was dismissed. Three years later she won re-election as prime minister only to again be forced out amid similar corruption scandals in 1996.

Pakistan's current president, General Pervez Musharraf, took power nearly 10 years ago in a military coup against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That again drove Ms. Bhutto into exile. Now she plans to return to Pakistan after reaching a tentative agreement with President Musharraf to share power. General Musharraf has granted amnesty to Ms. Bhutto, ending all corruption cases against her.

Marvin Weinbaum is a South Asia expert with the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. He says Ms. Bhutto will need to acknowledge her past mistakes if she is to be a successful leader in Pakistan. "She wants to give the impression that this is a fresh start. She says she will restore democracy and she will be able to take on the extremists and claims she is the one who is most dedicated to that and she will bring a national mandate behind her to do that," Weinbaum told us.

Other political analysts say it is uncertain whether Ms. Bhutto can generate the same popular support in Pakistan she once enjoyed.