As we speak, the shock waves from the assassination attempt against Benazir Bhutto last week are still reverberating around the world. A few months back, when George Negus asked the charismatic former Pakistani leader what she thought might happen when she returned to her homeland, her response was pertinent.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: When I turn up in Islamabad or Karachi, the regime might try to stop me, they might arrest my supporters. It could go either way.

Well, as we now know, Mrs Bhutto's homecoming ended in carnage, the nation's worst ever terrorist attack. And this week, she ventured to suggest that Pakistani intelligence operatives might've been involved in the attempt on her life. As she made her politically motivated journey back home, Mark Davis travelled with her every step of the way. In fact, Mark was dangerously close as the bombs exploded.

REPORTER: Mark Davis

Dubai, United Arab Emirates. One of the most famous women in South Asia is sweeping back onto centre stage after eight years of exile Benazir Bhutto is preparing to return to Pakistan. Widely lauded in the West, her reputation in Pakistan is more complicated and, frankly, more sullied.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PAKISTANI LEADER: Psychological warfare against me..

Her last period in government collapsed under the weight of numerous corruption allegations against her, her husband and her inner circle. She fled Pakistan as charges were being laid.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Do you think there are double standards when guilty people are free?

At her side today is Rehman Malik, a former Pakistan intelligence chief who followed Bhutto into exile and has become one of her key backers and advisers.

REHMAN MALIK, FORMER PAKISTANI INTELLIGENCE CHIEF: If you say people keep saying a lie, again and again, and again and again, it becomes true. And now it is our turn to say the truth again and again so people should know that she was not corrupt, she was never corrupt.

Malik has been central in negotiating her return and in negotiating an amnesty from any corruption charges with military ruler President Musharraf.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: We have not done any deal. We have held negotiations for the transition to democracy and certain initial positive developments have taken place in that regard.

Beyond the party faithful, her arrangement with General Musharraf has been viewed with cynicism. She's portrayed as propping up a failing dictator to secure her own amnesty and share of power, but apparently they have more in common than many have assumed.

REPORTER: So there are similarities?

REHMAN MALIK: There are similarities. Moreover, we don't want terrorism, General Musharraf doesn't want terrorism, the international community doesn't want terrorism. So this is a very common place thing, a very common issue?

REPORTER: So in a way, the terrorism issue has bought you together?

REHMAN MALIK: Of course, and I think General Musharraf has realised that this cannot be controlled alone by him and needs a political force.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: I do not believe that any true Muslim would launch an attack on me.

In the face of serious bomb threats Bhutto's courage is being tested today. But there is a career to revive, promises to be kept, a family name to redeem, and lives to be risked, including her own.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Because Islam forbids attacks on women and Muslims know that if they attack a woman they would burn in hell.

As she heads to the plane the most notable absences are the British and American politicians who had apparently pledged to travel in with her. It seems they now have other engagements. But there is no shortage of people keen to share this journey with her.

REPORTER: Are you anxious entering Karachi in these first few days?

REHMAN MALIK: Not anxious, it's our own country and I'm sure that when she goes back, the almighty Allah will be protecting her, but at the same time, her workers who love her and will give be a human shield to give protection. And at the same time I have been confirmed by the government of Pakistan that they have issued the necessary instruction of Pakistan government to take care and foolproof agreements for this.

On the tarmac at Dubai, Bhutto's arrival in Pakistan is still a moot point. For half an hour the captain refuses to take off until the human shields in economy class settle down. A moment's silence for lift-off and the jubilation starts again.

THE HUMAN SHIELDS: Benazir! Benazir!

Many of the people on this flight aren't just celebrating the return of Benazir Bhutto, they are celebrating their own return from 8 or 9 years of exile as well.

MAN: We are coming from London. They are coming from all over Europe, they are coming from Arab countries, they are coming from America, they are coming from so many places but they all belong to the Pakistan Peoples Party and Benazir Bhutto is there.

So most of you are coming from other countries at the moment?

MAN: Yes that's right.

MAN 2: I am coming from Scotland.

MAN 3: Already there are 2 million people have gathered in Karachi, they have been travelling for the past three days.


MAN: Yes I am sure, once you get there then you will see.

REPORTER: Is it safe to have 2 million people on the street of Karachi?

MAN 3: Karachi is a very big city, more than maybe 11 or 12 million people living there, you know that.

REPORTER: Why do you need the millions? It could affect her safety, why the millions. Is it for the theatre?

MAN 3: It's not about safety, it's about love. The people love her and the real leader is coming back.

The flight lurches into turmoil again as Bhutto comes back to thank her workers and supporters and to steel them for the grand tasks ahead. This plane is not just resonating with joy and a sense of mission.

MAN: We are going to have a fight that outlaws terrorism..

It's overflowing with hubris as well.

MAN: and all those extreme mullahs we are going to fight against them.

REPORTER: Well you might be facing them today literally.

MAN: Yes, I tell you one thing, one of the Taliban, the mullah, their leader.. what he said, he said ok "Let Benazir and her entourage come, we are waiting for her and my suicide bombers will be there." They have threatened us but she is not scared, we are going to face those terrorists right into their eyes, right there. And we are going to fight with them and we are going to eliminate them. They will not dare to blast a bomb anywhere.

After years of anticipating this homecoming, Benazir Bhutto and her party have just 10 hours left before this day will be torn apart. Meanwhile, the close security plan swings into action. The VIP lounge gives her an opportunity to quietly compose her thoughts and meet some dignitaries before the day begins, a respite from the crowds and chaos that she will soon have to face. As the converted bus that will carry her though the streets of Karachi departs, the first 30 metres is the fastest it will travel all day. The Bhutto bus inches its way through the crowd on its 2Okm journey to her home. By nightfall, four hours later, it had barely left the airport precinct. In the streets ahead of the convoy, more crowds are gathering to catch a glimpse of Bhutto.

It was coming up to 11:00pm, 9 hours since she landed, when I managed to scramble aboard the bus.

REPORTER: How much longer before we get there?

WOMAN: Another 8 or 9 more hours minimum.

REPORTER: How long does this trip normally take from the airport?

WOMAN: About half an hour, maybe 40 if traffic is bad.

Now with less than an hour to go before the first blast, I find an exuberant Rehman Malik.

REHMAN MALIK: This is called democracy and this is called the power of the people. She doesn't need any security. People are defending her, people are listening to her, they see how she act, how she can rule the people of Pakistan. And I'm sure when she will be in power she will take away all the extremism in the country. There will be no suicide bombers here. There will be no such thing because she has the power to convince people.

So far it has been a triumphant return for Benazir Bhutto, although two bombs are now waiting a few hundred metres ahead.

REPORTER: You could have come home in a much quieter fashion. Why did you choose to come like this?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: I wanted to come back in a public way, so the people for whom I am struggling would have an opportunity to welcome me. I think there is a moderate middle in Pakistan that people are not aware of and my return enabled the world to see this moderate middle which wants democracy, which wants betterment and wants peace.

The message is that it is not just Bhutto returning tonight. With crowds still pouring in, politics itself is returning to Pakistan after eight years of military rule. The doubts about her negotiating with Musharraf seem to be washing away.

REPORTER: Do you think that cynicism has gone today?

BENAZIR BHUTTO: Well, I think people are critical of the Peoples' Party talking with General Musharraf because General Musharraf's popularity is at a low and it is the lowest since polling has started in the country. So there is criticism of that. But I think it is important to find a way to get democracy without bloodshed. The street option or the protest always remains. But if we can find a way to move forward without chaos and without bloodshed then it can only help Pakistan.

With the blasts now looming, I began to film the people at the rear left side of the bus, in the heart of the strike zone. I've little doubt that most of the men here are now dead. One of them may have danced into the night, but the others, volunteer guards and policemen, stayed at their posts. It is probably one of these policemen who I think later died in the back of my car.

Behind the guards came the party faithful, old and young who wanted to follow the parade and get as close to Bhutto as possible. I'll never have any idea which of these people survived.

MAN: This is a great leader of Pakistan!

REPORTER: What's it mean for your life though?

MAN: This is our life, man.

REPORTER: But what's it mean to you? She is just a politician, what difference to you.

MAN: Because she helps the poor people.

MAN 2: I'm OK. If I look like I'm gonna fall, you can grab me. I'm good. We are here to welcome Benazir, a very popular leader of the peoples for expansion of democracy in a third world country.

These are all Bhutto loyalists, immune to any goading from me.

REPORTER: But she's a billionaire. She's got billions of dollars. How does she help the poor people? C'mon she's a multi-multi-millionaire.

WOMAN: We love her! Then no problem. We will not go home, we are here for Bhutto.

REPORTER: So this will go all night? Are you all from Karachi?

ALL: Yes!

I made my way back to my car. 15 minutes later the first explosion roared up in front of me.

REPORTER: What was that? What was that?

MAN: Attack. Attack?

REPORTER: What was it? A bomb?

MAN: It was attack. I don't know.

A bomb has just gone off about 50 yards ahead of us. We don't know what it is yet. I'll just go up and see.

REPORTER: What happened?

MAN: Tyre burst, a truck tyre burst. Tyre, tyre, tyre. Not a bomb?

I'd seen the blast but at a distance it seemed like no one wanted it to be true. Within seconds, there would be no more doubts. I recognised some of the faces among the walking wounded. But I knew there were hundreds more inside.

It's the next day, and the streets of Karachi are pretty empty. These are normally pretty teeming boulevards. There has been reports of some cars burning and of stonings going on. Benazir Bhutto is about to make her first press conference since the explosion last night. Bhutto's press conference to offer her condolences and some hope for the path ahead soon descends into a farce. Most can't see or hear her, and that may be her fate as she enters the coming election campaign.

BENAZIR BHUTTO: But we are not prepared to surrender our great nation to the militants.

Bhutto is undeterred but it is unlikely that she will be holding any more large rallies, a vital part of Pakistani politics. She can't appear in public without the risk of losing her own life or the weight of risking the lives of others. At this critical time in Pakistan's history it will be harder than ever to make herself heard.





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