Forty-four years ago, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who served as President and Prime Minister of Pakistan, was executed under the military regime of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Bhutto left behind a mixed legacy in Pakistan. But towards India, his attitude was of hostility and extreme mistrust. Bhutto was the brain behind Operation Gibraltar and Operation Grand Slam, triggering the 1965 war. Bhutto was also the Pakistani leader who announced on the international stage that they would “wage a war for 1,000 years, a war of defence” against India.
When he was as young as 15, in 1943, Bhutto had written to Mohammad Ali Jinnah, “Musalmans should realise that Hindus can never and will never unite with us, they are the deadliest enemies of our Koran and our Prophet.”
In later decades, as he occupied more and more influential positions in Pakistan, this antipathy towards Hindus and India would influence his increasingly consequential decisions.
Here is a look-back at his attitude to and dealings with India.
Operation Gibraltar and after
In August 1965, Pakistan decided to push around 30,000 men across the border into Jammu and Kashmir, to provoke an uprising against the Indian government in the Muslim-majority region. This was called Operation Gibraltar. However, the Indian Army soon got wind of the infiltrators and cracked down on them. This was followed by Operation Grand Slam, where Pakistan attempted to take the Akhnoor bridge, in efforts to cut off supply routes to Kashmir from Jammu. India, then under Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, responded by taking the war to Pakistan, crossing the international border and opening fronts in Punjab. Thus began the 1965 war, ending as a military misadventure for Pakistan.
One of the strongest proponents of Operation Gibraltar had been Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Their assessment at that time was that India had been weakened by its 1962 defeat to China, the death of Jawaharlal Nehru, and its internal problems. If Pakistan were to seize Kashmir by force, the time was now, before India had a chance to strengthen its armed forces.
Rudra Chaudhuri, director of Carnegie India, had told The Indian Express in 2015, “This was Bhutto’s war — an opportunity seized by a relatively young and ambitious actor working behind the scenes. The Kashmir cell, led by those drawn to this maverick, convinced Ayub Khan [the President] of the potential for rebellion in Kashmir. Neither Bhutto nor Ayub imagined the outbreak of war.”
The 1965 UN speech
On the eve of the ceasefire in the 1965 war, Bhutto delivered a vitriolic speech against India at the UN Security Council, whose rhetoric fetched him immense popularity back home in Pakistan, but “marked the beginning of the end of Kashmir as a live issue at the UN”, as Congress leader and former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar wrote in The Indian Express.
Calling India “a great monster, a great aggressor”, Bhutto said, “Today we are fighting a war, a war imposed on us by India, a naked predatory unwarranted aggression by 450 million people against 100 million people, a war of chauvinism and aggrandizement by a mighty neighbor against a small country… But we are resolved to fight for our honor, to fight for Pakistan, because we are the victims of aggression.”
On Kashmir, he said, “Jammu and Kashmir is not an integral part of India and has never been an integral part of India. Jammu and Kashmir is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. It is more a part of Pakistan than it can ever be of India, with all its eloquence and with all its extravagance with words. The people of Jammu and Kashmir are part of the people of Pakistan in blood, in flesh, in life—kith and kin of ours, in culture, in geography, in history and in every way and in every form. They are a part of the people of Pakistan.
We will wage a war for 1,000 years, a war of defence. I told that to the Security Council a year ago when that, body in all its wisdom and in all its power, was not prepared to give us a resolution. Even last year the Security Council felt that we had brought a dead horse to this Council, that we were trying to make internal propaganda. But the world must know that the 100 million people of Pakistan will never abandon their pledges and promises. The Indians may abandon their pledges and promises—we shall never abandon ours.”
The UN speech at 1971
The chain of events that led to the 1971 war was also triggered in part by Bhutto’s refusal to form a government with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose Awami League had won heavily in East Pakistan while Bhutto’s party had in West Pakistan in the General Elections. However, even as Pakistan was humiliated in yet another war, Bhutto tried to protect his own popularity from the defeat by another dramatic speech at the UN Security Council.
Storming out of the room after telling the Council that his 11-year-old son had told him not to come back with a surrender document, Bhutto declaimed, “Mr. President, I am not a rat. I’ve never ratted in my life. I have faced assassination attempts, I’ve faced imprisonment. Today I am not ratting, but I am leaving your Security Council. I find it disgraceful to my person and to my country to remain here a moment longer. Impose any decision, have a treaty worse than Versailles, legalize aggression, legalize occupation—I will not be a party to it. We will fight. My country harkens for me. Why should I waste my time here in the Security Council? I will not be a party to the ignonimous surrender of part of my country. You can take your Security Council; here you are. I am going.”
A New York Times report from December 16, 1971, says: “Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Zulfikar All Bhutto, his face streaked with tears, walked out of the Security Council today after accusing it of “legalizing aggression.” Outside the chamber, he said: “I hate this body. I don’t want to see their faces again. I’d rather go back to a destroyed Pakistan.””
However, despite his passionate words, Bhutto practically remembered to clarify that he was “not boycotting” and that Pakistan would not break off ties with the UN.