With her stunning victory in Pakistan's national elections this week, Benazir Bhutto is on the verge of making international history.
If Bhutto comes to power after Pakistan's first open elections in 11 years, she will become the first woman ever elected to rule a Moslem country.That breakthrough, in turn, can be expected to change social attitudes and open doors to other women throughout the Third World. Though women have broken down other barriers in this part of the globe, few have risen to the top in political life. Even the late Indira Gandhi ruled a secular India that has only a minority Moslem population.
But such changes still may not take place if Benazair Bhutto is unable to form a coalition government or if Pakistan's military regime starts tampering with the election results.
Why should America care about all of this?
Because of Pakistan's key role in aiding the rebels who have fought Soviet invaders in neighboring Afghanistan.
Because Pakistan's strategic geographic position gives it a major role in efforts to counter any Soviet threat to oil supplies from the Persian Gulf.
And because Benazir Bhutto has wisely repudiated the controversial left-wing policies that made her late father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto so anathema to the United States before he was overthrown as prime minister in 1977 and later executed.
Instead, she is shunning nationalization of industry, supporting private investment, backing national defense as the top priority, and calling for the growth of the middle class.
It still isn't always easy for the U.S. to warm up to Pakistan because of Pakistan's inveterate hostility to neighboring India and clandestine development of nuclear weapons. But relations between Washington and Islamabad should improve with Benazir Bhutto at the helm in Pakistan.