DUBAI, Oct 18 (Reuters) Former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto set out today on a journey home to end eight years of self-exile, under threat of assassination from militants linked to al Qaeda once she reaches Karachi.
''Pakistan is standing at a very critical juncture. One route leads to democracy, and the other leads to dictatorship,''Bhutto told journalists at Dubai airport, before boarding a flight due to arrive in Karachi at around 1350 hrs IST.
Bhutto's two daughters and husband, Asif Ali Zardari, went to the airport with her, but were staying in Dubai.
Bhutto, wearing a green shalwar kameez (loose tunic and trousers) and trademark white scarf, made a familiar populist appeal by vowing to devote her life to changing the destiny of Pakistan's poor.
Huge crowds were expected to greet her, and morning traffic in Pakistan's biggest city was light as many people stayed at home in anticipation of jammed roads and possible violence.
Some 20,000 security personnel have been deployed to provide protection against threatened suicide bomb attacks by militants.
Intelligence reports suggested at least three jihadi groups linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban were plotting suicide attacks, according to a provincial official.
''She has an agreement with America. We will carry out attacks on Benazir Bhutto as we did on General Pervez Musharraf,'' Haji Omar, a Taliban commander in the Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border, told Reuters by satellite telephone.
Once back in Karachi, Bhutto's procession was expected to take several hours edging through crammed roads to a venue close to the tomb of Pakistan's founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, where a rally has been planned by her party.
The site for her homecoming address befits a woman whose family history is steeped in Pakistan's torrid past.
Reuters SYU DB1233