10/12/2007 10:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Backing Benazir Bhutto - How a Political Win Can Transform East-West Relations

Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, is ending her self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. Ms. Bhutto is set to return to her homeland on October 18 and resume control at the helm of the opposition - Pakistan People's Party. A political win for Ms. Bhutto can significantly transform east-west relations.

Ms. Bhutto created history in 1988 when she was elected prime minister of Pakistan - the first woman ever to head a modern Muslim country and one of the youngest heads of state in the world. Her term of office came to an abrupt end in 1990, amidst allegations of misconduct and corruption, although the charges were never proven.

Ms. Bhutto was re-elected prime minister in 1993, only to be forced out of office three years later. Since that time, Ms. Bhutto has lived in exile in London and Dubai, pending corruption and money laundering charges against her and her husband, Asif Zardari. In some cases, Ms. Bhutto has been sentenced in absentia, but she has always maintained that the charges were politically motivated.

Notwithstanding these allegations, Ms. Bhutto left behind a legacy of liberalism in Pakistan. According to Stephen Philip Cohen (in The Idea of Pakistan), Ms. Bhutto represented "progressive social and economic policies; accommodation with India; good relations with all of the major powers (including the United States); gender empowerment; and a commitment to parliamentary democracy and a free press." The same cannot necessarily be said of her precursors or successors.

So where do we go from here? In the words of Dennis Ross, Middle East envoy and chief peace negotiator, what is missing from the discussion of American foreign policy is an understanding of 'statecraft'. In a book bearing the same name (Statecraft) Mr. Ross defines statecraft as the 'use of assets or the resources and tools (economic, military, intelligence, media) that a state has to pursue its interests and to affect the behavior of others, whether friendly or hostile". As applied to Pakistan, more attention needs to be paid to the structure of government (Bhutto's democracy versus Musharraf's authoritarianism) especially since no elected government has ever served out its term.

Pakistan is undoubtedly at a watershed and is an indispensable player in the geopolitical arena. Ms. Bhutto is the best candidate to chart a new course for the nation - on both the domestic and international fronts. Paramount among the priorities should be the matter of democratization of Pakistan. Moreover, Ms. Bhutto should be afforded the opportunity to build upon her legacy - especially the empowerment of women - and complete the agenda established in her previous administration.