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The Observer - December 31, 2007 She bought fruit in a dusty bazaar, impressed me with her insights: two weeks later, she was dead by Jason Burke Benazir Bhutto slipped off the white headscarf she always wore in public and sank back in the rear seat of her armoured police Land Cruiser. On one side of her sat Farhatullah Babar, her long-time aide. I sat on the other, notebook on my knee. After a rally near the dusty frontier city of Peshawar, the motorcade was heading for the capital, Islamabad. Bhutto did not stop talking during the three-hour journey - except once. As we drove through the crowded bazaar of a small town called Pabbi, she suddenly said she wanted to buy oranges and, stopping the vehicle, stepped down into the chaos of the market. Five minutes later, a crate of fruit sat beside her designer handbag on the seat, and crowds of bemused Pashtun tribesmen waved us on our way. Two weeks later, to the day, she was dead. The day I spent on the campaign trail with her this month was vintage Benazir. At first I interviewed her in a relatively formal fashion. Then I put my notebook away and we simply talked - about her ambitions, Pakistan, the coming elections and, of course, the various threats against her. As ever, I was impressed by her intelligence and courage and depressed by her delusions and ego. I had met Bhutto more than a decade before when, in 1997, she arrived at a reception for the new BBC correspondent in Islamabad. She invited me home for tea a week later and, confirming her famous sweet tooth, worked her way through a plate of sugary sweets as we spoke about her country, Afghanistan and US foreign policy. Over Chinese and Pakistani food, Bhutto talked about dieting, a biography of Madame de Pompadour, her kids, the terrible presents given by heads of state and Hillary Clinton's tolerance of her husband's alleged infidelity. She batted away my questions about her alleged corruption. A year later she invited me to spend a weekend at her country house in Sukkur, southern Sindh, on the anniversary of her father's death. There, in a discussion with the leaders of her Pakistan People's Party, I had ventured the prediction she would be out of power for at least a decade. Reminding her of this two weeks ago provoked a laugh. 'And what is your next prediction, Mr Burke?' she asked. Now her body is lying in the tomb we visited. At her country home, a different Bhutto was on display: the power broker and political chief. Every major figure from her party had come to pledge allegiance. Bhutto sat, enthroned, dispensing justice and blessings. Despite the pomp, she was then on the back foot, hounded by opponents, and with the mistakes of her first two administrations weighing on her record. Two weeks ago she told me she never expected to be out of power so long. 'Are you on the brink of power now?' I asked as we headed towards Islamabad on the new motorway she proudly, and without foundation, claimed the credit for building. 'I think the people are with us and we have the momentum,' she said. 'And the international community is supporting a return to democracy.' But security was uppermost in her mind. From early in the morning she had inveighed against the government, which was not providing the protection she said was necessary. She knew the risks. Impromptu walkabouts to buy oranges were perhaps safe - 'It's being unpredictable that protects you,' she said - but her vulnerability was evident. The second big issue she mentioned was poll rigging. Bhutto was convinced the elections would be manipulated, but what mattered was how badly. 'It's all in the numbers,' she said. She also spoke of how she did not want Pakistan to be a base for international militancy. In the car back to Islamabad, she clarified this, saying that it was partly because of the West suffering from international terrorism but more because it was her own nation that was being 'destroyed from within' by militancy. People came to her all the time, asking her to 'do something', she said. 'I tell the government, but they do not act.' Her election manifesto focused on social and economic problems, she explained, especially the inflation caused by a rapid economic growth that has yet to benefit many. But she admitted that her long exile had distanced her from the people. When I asked her to explain her impulsive visit to the market, she said she had 'seen that people were there. And I need to meet the people.' Bhutto did indeed need to meet Pakistan's people - politically, psychologically. When you were with her, it was easy to forget the evidence of personal corruption - oil-for-food deals with Saddam, for example - or the incompetence of some of her entourage, and succumb to her charm. Politics was the only life she knew. It was not so much personal ambition as a part of who she was: her father's daughter, one of the world's most flawed and charismatic politicians. On the drive to Islamabad, she relaxed, calling for sweets and sandwiches, slipping off her flat shoes. She spoke about those she said were trying to kill her - a cabal of retired senior military officers and intelligence agents in league with radical Islamic militants 'embedded in the country' who, she said, formed a secret parallel state of immense power. We spoke, too, about the long summer negotiations with Musharraf. 'What do you call him when you speak on the phone?' I asked. 'General Sahib,' she said, grinning mischievously. And what does he call you? 'Bibi,' she said, looking me straight in the eye in a sure sign it was not true. The motorcade halted outside the house where we took tea 10 years previously. We shook hands briefly, and then she walked away.

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