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Exiled Bhutto Returns to Pakistan

DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Deborah Amos in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And Soraya, how was the trip?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Oh, it was chaotic, I think, in a word. Basically, the - both the press and the supporters of Benazir Bhutto were on board. And everybody was yelling and hollering and whooping, I mean, not the press necessarily, but everyone else. And she came off the plane about 45 minutes after the plane was scheduled to land because of all the chaos. And she cried, held her hand up to the sky as if in prayer, and it was very thankful to be home, very visibly thankful.

INSKEEP: Philip, what was it like?

PHILIP REEVES: Well, I'm among the crowds now. And I'm looking at a sizeable gathering of people. They've been coming here more or less in clumps, if you like, all morning. And now, there's a lot of people here. And a moment ago a shiver of excitement went through the crowd. They began brandishing their flags and rushing forward because the word went around that she's actually arrived. But however, no sign of her yet. It is a pretty colorful scene, lots of people dressed up in the livery of the Pakistan People's Party, which is Bhutto's party.

INSKEEP: So a lot of drama there and Bhutto has been speaking of a return to democracy in Pakistan. Her critics have pointed out that she's been negotiating off and on with the military dictator. And I do have to ask, Philip, when you get away from the crowds, speaking as you do as someone who covers Pakistan a lot, is Benazir Bhutto still popular in Pakistan?

REEVES: Well, that's a very good question because a lot of Pakistanis do have reservations despite these dramatic scenes here of her supporters who've come from far and wide to be here in scores of coaches, taxis and buses and so on. But if you talk to other Pakistanis, not part of the party infrastructure, they have reservations for two reasons: they don't like her doing a deal with a man that they perceive to be a military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf who is, remember, still in the uniform of the army chief; and they're unhappy about the corruption allegations that have been lifted against by a law that was passed specifically to enable her arrival. That law, of course, is now being challenged, though, in their Supreme Court. But they are unhappy about that, too.

INSKEEP: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is still with us. And in addition to covering today's flight into Pakistan by Benazir Bhutto, you, of course, frequently cover Afghanistan for NPR in the border region there with Pakistan. Can you remind us why it still matters who is running Pakistan - still matters to the United States?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, because the feeling is that Osama bin Laden and all the Taliban leadership remain in the north - well on either - on the Pakistani side of the border, the Afghan side of the border depending on who you talk to. They tend to go back and forth there. This is a very volatile area that is under very little control. And that is why it's of concern, because the feeling is that if you have someone in power who's not strong and able to deal with this, that you will, in fact, have more chaos and more violence spilling into Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: And let's talk, Philip Reeves, about the person who is still in power, Pervez Musharraf. How, if it all, is his government responding to the return of Benazir Bhutto today?

REEVES: Well, they wanted her to come back but not yet. Musharraf was anxious that he should settle the issue of the validity of his election, which is being decided by the Supreme Court, before her return. And so already there's tension in that relationship between Bhutto and Musharraf, which many expect to be a difficult one in the future.

INSKEEP: NPR's Philip Reeves and NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi reporting on the return of Benazir Bhutto to her home country, Pakistan, today. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.