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Meeting as one tough woman to another, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto pledged a mutual determination Sunday to help women improve their lot in life.

Two of the world's best-known women displayed what appeared to be a genuine kinship as Mrs. Clinton began her 12-day tour of South Asia with a trip to the prime minister's residence.

"I know that much remains to be done in every society, in both of our countries, to ensure that women assume their rightful place and are given the opportunities to exercise their rights, but I am very optimistic by what I see happening in the world," Mrs. Clinton said at a luncheon for prominent women for which the prime minister was the host.

The Harvard-educated Mrs. Bhutto said her government is making "a frontal assault on institutional discrimination against women in our society."

But neither woman is without her share of critics. Mrs. Bhutto wryly took note of that when she told Mrs. Clinton, "women who take on tough issues and stake out new territory are often on the receiving end of ignorance. I can personally attest to that."

Mrs. Bhutto's critics say her government has failed to live up to her words and that there has been no major progress in improving the situation of women in this male-dominated society. Many Pakistanis also are disappointed in her failure to revive a stagnant economy and contain violence.

Meeting with Mrs. Clinton privately before the luncheon, Mrs. Bhutto previewed the broader agenda she will bring to Washington when she meets with President Clinton next month.

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