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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 October 2007, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
On board Benazir Bhutto's flight
By Owen Bennett Jones
BBC News, Karachi

Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan
Now that I am homeward bound, I believe I can truly say that miracles do happen
Benazir Bhutto

They were all on board. Her trusted confidantes, her boisterous party activists, her old friends from Oxford days and, of course, journalists from all over the world on hand to transmit her message to Western capitals and to Pakistan itself.

The reporters had haggled to get on EK 606. For slots on the flight, they had cajoled the Pakistan Peoples Party's media managers in London and Dubai.

For the tickets, they had had to deal with an utterly chaotic travel agent in Oslo. And as for the visas, it was a case of hoping for the best at any Pakistani embassy willing to give one.

Why had they gone to such trouble? Because, by common consent, Benazir Bhutto is good copy.

'Better future'

They all knew the story before they got on board - the charismatic leader returning to her ardent supporters, the corruption charges and the denials, the extraordinary political deal with President Pervez Musharraf and the soaring rhetoric about restoring democracy, the forthcoming election and behind it all, the echoes of what happened to her father under another military ruler.

And if the journalists knew their story, Ms Bhutto knew her script. It was never in doubt.

Benazir Bhutto on aircraft in Pakistan
Ms Bhutto could not escape the media scrum

"I have reports from Karachi," she declared in a first-class lounge at Dubai International, "that over a million people have gathered at the airport."

By the time she had got on board EK 606 that number had increased to one and half million. They had turned up, she said, to show their support for democracy.

"This is the beginning of a journey for a better future for all the people of Pakistan."

Just five weeks ago another former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif used almost exactly the same words, when he arrived in Islamabad on his way, as it turned out, to Riyadh.

But there was no-one on hand to listen to him. A combination of lethargy within his Pakistani Muslim League Party and army checkpoints meant he played to an empty theatre.

Ms Bhutto's preparations were more thorough.

Months of secret contacts with Gen Musharraf meant that even if the army thought her return premature, it would be tolerated.

The threat that had kept her away from Pakistan for nearly a decade - that she would be arrested the moment she stepped foot in the country - had been neutralised.

Dancing in the aisles

And her party leadership in Pakistan had organised huge numbers to greet her.

The flight itself turned into a contest between rowdy activists and exasperated cabin staff.

Repeated appeals on the aircraft public address system for people to take their seats fell on deaf ears.

The passengers were more interested in chanting pro-Benazir slogans, dancing in the aisles and trying to get a word with the leader herself.

Eventually Ms Bhutto emerged from her first-class seat and inched her way down the aisles amid a mob of cameramen, reporters and activists.

"I am feeling very excited and overwhelmed," she said.

"There are so many messages; so many press interviews, and now that I am homeward bound," she added, "I believe I can truly say that miracles do happen."

Owen Bennett Jones, a former BBC Correspondent in Islamabad, presents Newshour on the BBC World Service and is the author of Pakistan : Eye of the Storm

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