Enter Benazir, saviour of democracy (minus scarf)

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Indy Politics

Benazir Bhutto swept into the RAF Club in Piccadilly 30 minutes late. Her white silk headscarf had fallen to her shoulders by the time she reached the seat from where she would deliver her "farewell address".

But no matter. As the Oxford-educated former prime minister of Pakistan told her audience during a two-hour exchange, her scarf is always falling off.

Ms Bhutto is ending eight years of exile to "save democracy" in Pakistan. Her planned return home later this month, with the blessing of the Bush administration, has generated at least as much publicity as the Second Coming – of Nawaz Sharif, that is. He is the Pakistani prime minister who twice succeeded her, but who, like Ms Bhutto, was forced into exile over corruption charges, and was deported to Saudi Arabia after flying home last month in the full glare of the international media.

Ms Bhutto is taking no such risk. "I think when the history of my nation is written, we will look back to the fall of 2007 as a genuine turning point," she said. "I believe that we are at this time at a critical fork between democracy and dictatorship, and between moderation and extremism."

Ms Bhutto, 54, wants the "moderate middle" to be "mobilised to stand up to fanaticism. And I want to lead that struggle." She says she is older and wiser now.

Her years spent outside Pakistan have been "as useful" as her time in government. She argues that as long as the president has the power to sack the prime minister, the head of state will be tempted to use that power. "Every single prime minister has been sacked for the same charges of malgovernance and corruption since this power was introduced," she said referring to her demand for the presidential prerogative to be curtailed.

But, "there are many things I would do differently this time," she went on. She puts social issues, such as education and health, at the heart of her policies. In tribal areas, where she says people are living in the "Stone Age", the building of new schools would offer "teaching and knowledge independent of the political madrassas" which have nurtured radical Islam.