KARACHI, Oct 17: Bhutto loyalists kept streaming into Karachi late into Wednesday night to welcome the People’s Party chairperson upon her arrival after eight years in self-exile.

At a pre-departure press conference in Dubai, Benazir Bhutto said she wanted to create for the people of Pakistan a country “where they have opportunities for employment, economic well-being, the primacy of civilian rule and a society free of extremism”.

In Karachi, PPP supporters were in a festive mood, their faces painted in the party tricolour and dancing to the accompaniment of songs composed to celebrate the homecoming on Thursday.

On the other hand, the party’s leadership in the city and the administration were preoccupied with sorting out security matters. The Sindh home secretary heightened jitters on both sides after he said intelligence reports had hinted at threats of suicide attack on Ms Bhutto’s motorcade.

But the ominous pronouncement did not dampen the Benazir loyalists’ enthusiasm.

Caravans from the interior of Sindh kept pouring into Karachi and many more were on their way. The PPP’s transport committee chief, Masroor Ahsan, told Dawn that rallies coming from Balochistan had been advised to turn left on Northern bypass and drive through Kathore bridge on the road leading to Hyderabad.

After crossing the link road they would use the National Highway and drive through Qaidabad bridge to reach the airport. Rallies coming from Hyderabad and other parts of the country had been advised to take the same route from Kathore link road. Caravans coming from other parts of southern Sindh, including Badin, would follow the National Highway. The party has set up reception camps on all important vantage places.

Provincial Secretary General Nafees Siddiqui said a huge turnout would stun the rulers, claiming that many rallies from Punjab, NWFP, Azad Kashmir, Northern Areas and Balochistan had already reached the city “despite hurdles created by the chief ministers of Punjab and Sindh”.

Dr Fehmida Mirza, an office-bearer, said PPP leaders were confident that they would give a “historic welcome” to Benazir Bhutto.

At the press conference in Dubai, Ms Bhutto said she did not fear “militants and extremists”, acknowledging that Afghan and Arab militants as well as those of the Red Mosque had threatened her.

“I don’t believe that a true Muslim will attack me. I believe Islam forbids suicide bombings.”

Benazir Bhutto was critical of the Supreme Court’s taking suo motu notice of the reconciliation ordinance. “Where was the court when a convicted premier from Punjab (Nawaz Sharif) was taken out of jail and sent to Saudi Arabia.

“And where was it when Dr A.Q. Khan publicly confessed that he had provided nuclear technology to several countries,” Ms Bhutto remarked.

She said that threats to her life had been whipped up to “intimidate me and the people of Pakistan”.

Ms Bhutto said she was hopeful that after the general election, the country would move towards “real democracy”.

The PPP chief said the country’s integrity was at stake because of the militancy and insurgency in the tribal areas

“There is a need to regain control of the tribal areas because if we don’t, others will do that and we might face an East Pakistan-like situation.”

She said if her party came to power, “we will prepare a package that would address the basic problems of the tribals”.

Ms Bhutto denied reaching a deal with President Musharraf, claiming that her return had nothing to do with the reconciliation ordinance. In fact, she said, negotiations were held in 2002, but she had rejected the “conditionalities”.

“We have not done any deal. We held negotiations... The Pakistan People’s Party negotiated for democracy... other parties did deals,” she said.