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Last Updated: Saturday, 29 December 2007, 07:09 GMT
Benazir, the steely and vulnerable
By Lyse Doucet
BBC News

Benazir Bhutto at a rally in Rawalpindi the day of her death
Benazir Bhutto could work the crowds for hours on end
She was hailed as one of the Muslim world's first democratically elected female leaders, and, at 35, one of the youngest ever prime ministers.

I will remember many faces of the Benazir Bhutto I saw over 20 years of following her turbulent political career: a charismatic populist who could hold forth for hours in her native Urdu language to huge, often frenzied crowds; a prime minister who would stride, head held high, through the corridors of power nodding "asalamaleikhum" to everyone on the way; a woman who could be downright silly; a mother who doted on her three children.

Over the years we have discussed everything from the nature of democracy to her latest diet, persistent allegations of corruption against her and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, and the unrelenting demands of her very political life.

She disappointed many during her two terms as prime minister. But whatever her flaws, she had courage.

The political game was in her blood. And, there was that deeply held belief - she would deny - that as a Bhutto she was "born to rule," that her destiny and Pakistan's was one and the same.

I have watched her closely since her momentous return from eight years in exile in October.

Emotional return

In our last meeting outside Islamabad in November she spoke with glee of returning to her homes in Pakistan and finding her bright - now congealed - nail polishes and the shalwar kameezes that no longer fitted and were out of fashion.

Benazir Bhutto is welcomed by the crowds ion her return in October 2007
Benazir Bhutto commanded the unstinting loyalty of her supporters

Then we shifted to the tough political questions in a recorded interview.

But with perhaps one question too many on the controversial deal she had done with General Musharraf, and an interview she felt had now gone on too long, she suddenly snapped.

I saw, for a flash, a woman still overwhelmed by the emotion of a tumultuous return scarred by violence, and the pressures of controversial decisions she felt she had to take to have corruption charges dropped in order to come home.

Her eyes began to well with tears. But she also collected herself, in a flash.

And then hurried off to another round of meetings.

There was no doubting her energy and palpable happiness as she travelled across Pakistan again, with her trademark white "dupatta" or headscarf, always flanked by the same loyal women and men of her Pakistan People's Party who linked their fate to hers.

This was vintage Benazir - the same huge political processions we had reported on for years, that showered her with rose petals and the chants of Jeay Bhutto! (Long live Bhutto).

I could not see how she would have it any other way. It cost her her life.

Dynastic politics

It puzzled me when I first went to Pakistan in 1988 that, in this conservative Islamic country, so many would vote for her.

Benazir Bhutto in 1988 in front of her father's portrait
Benazir Bhutto was the political heir of her father, Zulfikar

When I asked why, many Pakistanis told me they were really voting for her charismatic father Ali Zulfikar Bhutto.

He was hanged in 1979 by the then military ruler General Zia ul Haq.

She was her father's daughter, the heir to his legacy.

She could be imperious, the scion, after all, of a dynastic feudal family.

She did not always make the wisest choices on everything from policy to some of the people around her.

She was BB to her friends, and "Pinky" to her closest.

Determined but vulnerable

In recent years even some of her dearest companions accused her of betraying their political principles.

I am not pregnant. I am fat. And, as the Prime Minister, its my right to be fat if I want to
Benazir Bhutto

But she was still adored by countless followers who supported her with a blind unswerving loyalty.

However, she sometimes vented her frustration that her life was not her own.

During her first term, she also earned the distinction of being the first prime minister to give birth in office.

And she withstood the barbs of politicians who said there was no provision for a prime minister to take maternity leave.

And then for years after, a woman with a weakness for sweets had to withstand questions from the press about her fluctuating weight.

One of my colleagues once asked her if she was pregnant again and she turned on him with a sharp retort: "No, I am not pregnant. I am fat. And, as the prime minister, its my right to be fat if I want to."

"Silk and steel," was how she described the late Indian leader Indira Gandhi in her memoirs.

This was Benazir too - a steely determination matched by very human vulnerability.

Lyse Doucet first reported for the BBC from Pakistan in 1988 and went on to become the BBC correspondent there from 1989 to 1993. She has continued to report on the country since then.

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