Art & Culture

How Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s speech at the UN changed the history of Pakistan

Syeda Hameed
Syeda HameedFeb 13, 2018 | 11:11

How Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s speech at the UN changed the history of Pakistan

ZAB wrote Confrontation with India at the time he was in thick of politics

At the age of 15, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto wrote a letter to Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah on April 26, 1943. His anger at the events in the Frontier and Kashmir spilt on the paper. The events, he wrote, were the pro-India stance of Dr Khan Sahib and Sheikh Mohd Abdullah. “How can Sheikh Mohd Abdullah and Dr Khan Sahib call themselves musalmans when they fall victim to Congress policy? It breaks my heart when I listen to their stupid speeches against the League. Are they really so ignorant or is it their idea of patriotism?” In one stroke, he condemned pro-India movement of Red Shirts and “Indian stooges” like Sheikh Mohd Abdullah of Kashmir, calling them “ignorant speeches of impractical men”.


Deep distrust of the “other” was embedded in the mind of this teenager. The letter seems to spit out the words. “Musalmans should realise that Hindus can never, will never unite with us. They are the deadliest enemies of our Koran and our Prophet.” The 15-year-old was studying at Cathedral School, Bombay. He had Parsi friends, like Piloo Mody, but must have rubbed shoulders with Hindu boys as well.

He then offers himself to his one and only leader, “The time will come when I will even sacrifice my life for Pakistan.” He affirms his strong belief that Sindh “will one day play a vital role in the birth of Pakistan”.

These childhood expressions later on were to become the foundation of his popularity when the country was at its most vulnerable - first having lost the 1965 war to India and later when Ayub Khan and Lal Bahadur Shastri signed the Tashkent Agreement in 1966. Next was the war of 1971 which led to the fall of Dacca on December 16. The country was stung with even more humiliation.

For the two countries, the 18 intervening years following Independence and Partition, 1947–1965, were filled with extreme tension and enmity. There were divided families on both sides. Difficulties of travel were mounting; in the early days, permission from district commissioner was the only required document needed for travel. Soon special passport and later international passport was introduced. In the aftermath of the India-Pakistan war of 1965, many Pakistanis became anxious about the future of their country. There was widespread economic hardship in daily life. There was scarcity of coal, water, weapons; India had not paid Pakistan’s share of the consolidated fund.


India’s refusal after Partition to part with what a resource-starved Pakistan regarded as its meagre share of financial assets and military equipment was deplored by no one less than Mahatma Gandhi. Pakistan was deprived of salt pans, which India had in plenty. East Pakistan had all the jute cultivation but its market and trade was not in Dacca; it was in Calcutta, a factor which paralysed East Pakistan. The battle over the accession of the Muslim majority state of Kashmir in 1948 (which was to be cut into half by a ceasefire line) sealed the feud. Not including the communal slaughter occasioned by Partition, it would be only the first round of bloodletting between India and Pakistan. Both states embarked on a collision course which was to become a permanent feature of their relationship in the years ahead. India, because of its greater economic resources and an industrial base as well as a vibrant political movement, led by the Congress party, was better able to absorb the costs of such ventures, Pakistan was not.

ZAB wrote Confrontation with India at the time he was in thick of politics. His bitterness as reflected in the letter to Quaid-e-Azam now covered a much wider canvas. “At the time of Partition, Pakistan had lost Gurdaspur, Ferozpur and certain disputed parts of Punjab as well as valuable territories in the East, notably Assam and Tripura. Likewise in district Amritsar, Muslim majority areas that we lost, spread from Lahore to the suburbs of Amritsar… It has taken 20 years and two wars to establish the separate entity of our state with its population of over 120 million, and yet there are people who still lament the Partition of the sub-continent, portraying Pakistan as prodigal son who will someday return to the bosom of Bharat Mata... India wants breathing space in which to deal firmly with dissident elements. She would like to crush the Nagas and Mizos, who are close to East Pakistan, suppress the South and the Sikhs, contain pockets of discontent in Rajputana and break the spirit of 60 million Indian Muslims”.


ZAB’s resentment against what he sees as India’s hegemony recurs throughout his writings and speeches. His deep-rooted hurt at Pakistan’s weak responses and capitulation to India became the trigger which catapulted him into the political arena. It played out in the theatre of war in 1965.

India-Pak skirmishes reached Srinagar between August 10 – August 13. The government of India issued strong protest against Pakistan violating the Line of Control. As Pakistan’s foreign minister, ZAB denied the charge in strong words. On August 16, 1965, Pakistan entered Kargil and conflicts occurred in Chhamb, Medhar, Poonch, Uri and Thethwal. Pakistani armies advanced till Joriyan. On September 6, 1965, India crossed the International Border and opened war fronts in Sialkot, Lahore and Sindh. The 1965 war began.

ZAB did not, publicly at least, take the credit for starting the war with India in 1965. However, as subsequent disclosures were to reveal, he was the chief proponent of a forward policy directed at forcing India’s hand over Kashmir. Thus, in accordance with “Operation Gibraltar” in August 1965, Pakistan had infiltrated trained “guerrillas” into Kashmir whose task was to provoke an armed uprising in the troubled valley. Unhappily for ZAB, “Gibraltar” was an unqualified fiasco. The Indian forces had responded in full measure not only to meet Pakistan’s offensive in Kashmir, but had escalated the conflict by launching an attack against Pakistan itself. While Ayub Khan favoured limited and short military adventure, he had no desire for a full-scale war which neither the US nor the Soviet Union would support despite their own differences. The war would only give satisfaction to China. Thus, the 17-day war was brought to an abrupt end in September.

Fifty years after the 1965 war, at the age of 92, Dr Mubashir Hasan speaks with sharp recall of his deep personal feelings as eyewitness to the India-Pakistan war:

“The 1965 war between India and Pakistan was to leave a deep imprint on the psyche of the people of Pakistan, especially along the eastern border of the country. I too was profoundly affected. The Indian Army was within 12 miles of my home; I could hear the booming of the guns and regretted the inadequate preparation of the Pakistan Army. While I was opposed to the regime of the military dictator, field marshal Ayub Khan, I offered my services to the commander-in-chief, general Musa Khan for war duty, an offer which he declined.”

ZAB’s speech as Pakistan’s foreign minister at the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on September 22, 1965 launched his star on Pakistan’s political firmament. He began by asserting that Pakistan was a small country. “You have only to look at a map of the world and see our size to be aware of our resources and our ability.” He defines India as a “great monster”, always “given to aggression”. He recounts its aggression against Junagadh, Manavadar, Mongrol, Hyderabad and Goa. “Pakistan, according to Indian leaders, is its enemy number one. We have always known that India is determined to annihilate Pakistan.”

At the UNSC meeting, ZAB announced the cessation of hostilities by Pakistani forces. But before making the announcement, he made sure that he had put across what was his deepest conviction. “We are resolved to fight for our honour, to fight for Pakistan, because we are victims of aggression. Aggression has been committed against the soil of Pakistan. Irrespective of our size, irrespective of our resources, we have the resolve, we have the will to fight because ours is a just cause. Ours is a righteous cause.” He went on to speak words which would echo in the region for decades. “We will wage a war for a thousand years, a war of defence.”

Born to be hanged, by Syeda Hameed; Rupa Publications

With these lines, he raised the stature of his country and made the world sit up in grudging admiration of the grit of this fiery orator from a country which was on the discard list of most nations: “This is the last chance for the Security Council to put all its force, all its energy, all its moral responsibility behind a fair and equitable and honorable solution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute. History does not wait for councils, organisations or institutions, just as it does not wait for individuals… Let me tell the Security Council on behalf of my government, that if now, after this last chance that we are giving the Security Council, it does not put its full force, full moral responsibility and full weight behind an equitable and honourable settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute, Pakistan will have to leave the United Nations. In leaving the United Nations Pakistan will be fulfilling the Charter of the United Nations.

He then stated the reason why Pakistan was created; its basic principle was to bring about a permanent settlement between the two major communities. “For seven hundred years we sought to achieve equilibrium between the people of the two major communities, and we believed eventually that the only way to live in lasting peace with India was to establish our homeland, to establish a country smaller in area, but nevertheless capable of having a relationship, a modus vivendi, with a great and powerful neighbour. That was one of the prime factors responsible for the creation of Pakistan.” He gave example of Sweden and Norway, which had to separate to get closer. By the same token, he explained, “a separate country, Pakistan, would enable a permanent peace, a permanent understanding, between the people of both countries”.

He spoke of the limited resources of both the countries, which need to be deployed for development of the people. “It is not the law of God that people in Asia and Africa should be poor… We want to break the barriers of poverty—we want to give our people a better life, we want our children to have a better future.”

He speaks of his country’s respect and regard for people of India and its hope that separation would have brought them closer. The basic principle that areas occupied by Muslim majority would form Pakistan, he said, was accepted by the Indian leaders. “All we ask is to live in peace, friendship and goodwill with India on the basis of the understanding and agreements which the Indian government and the Indian leaders themselves solemnly pledged to my people and my country.”

Passionately appealing to stop the war of aggression, he 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 neighbour against a small country. We do not want to be exterminated… But today our cities are being bombed indiscriminately by the might of India…”

He later asked India to honour its commitments, pledges and promises to the people of Pakistan. Having said that, he came to the unresolved issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Perhaps this is one of the most iconic speeches by any foreign minister at the UN Security Council. ZAB uttered these words to representatives of world powers. The following statements echo Bhutto’s frustration at the negligence of the world towards Pakistan while it was confronting India during the 1965 war.

“Jammu and Kashmir is not an integral part of India and has never been an integral part of India. It 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… 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… 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. Irrespective of our size and resources, we shall fight to the end.”

The anger which was simmering all through the speech burst out and his words hit hard both India and UN. “We are grateful to all of you for whatever you have done to uphold the cause of justice, because, finally and ultimately, justice must prevail. We believe, more than ever, that justice is bound to prevail for the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Five million people must have the right to decide their own future. Why should they be made an exception?”

The debate tossed up the issue to heights beyond the sky which stretched over the UN dome when he asked, “Should the whole phenomenon of self-determination, stretching from Asia and Africa, apply to the whole world except to the people of Jammu and Kashmir? Are they some outcastes of an Indian society? Are they some untouchable pariahs that they should not be given the right of self-determination, that they should not be allowed to have the right to their own future? The whole world believes in the right of self-determination. Must it be denied to the people of Jammu and Kashmir merely because power must prevail over principle? Power shall never prevail over principle. Finally and ultimately, principle must prevail over power. This is a Christian concept, it is an Islamic concept, and it is a civilized concept.”

He then avers that in this matter India was isolated with the whole of Asia and Africa supporting the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir. Listing the countries which support Pakistan, he said, “On the one hand, you have the whole world arrayed on the side of the cause of right and justice and morality, and, on the other hand, you have a war machine, an arrogant and chauvinistic state breaking its pledges, breaking its promises and wanting to destroy the will and the spirit of a people. The will and spirit of our people can never be destroyed. Let me tell you: you can have one ceasefire, you can have another ceasefire, but the 100 million people of Pakistan shall face extermination rather than forsake their principles or allow their principles to be negated and destroyed by sheer force and power.”

The President’s message was lying untouched on his desk, he did not once look at it while he spoke. There was total silence in the Security Council. But the time had come when, having exonerated himself, he would read what was written by his head of state. “I have the honour to transmit the following message from the President of Pakistan, which I received from Rawalpindi at 2 o’clock ( which, is 11 o’ clock WPST) today (22 September 1965):

“Pakistan considers Security Council Resolution 211 of September 20 as unsatisfactory. However, in the interest of international peace and in order to enable the Security Council to evolve a self-executing procedure, which will lead to an honourable settlement of the root cause of the present conflict —namely, the Jammu and Kashmir dispute — I have issued the following order to the Pakistan armed forces. They will stop fighting as from 12.05 hours West Pakistan Time today. As from that time they will not fire on enemy forces unless fired upon, provided the Indian Government issues similar orders to its armed forces. Please accept, Excellences, the assurances of my highest consideration.”

Anyone else in this situation would have concluded his speech at this point, not ZAB. It was an extraordinary display of confidence fuelled by anger, which made him continue, drawing the Security Council’s attention to its own cardinal weakness. After reading the message, he continued, “But a cessation of hostilities is not enough. The Security Council — the most important organ of the United Nations — must now address itself to the heart of the problem. For 18 years, it has played and toyed with the future of Kashmir. It can no longer make a plaything or a toy out of five million people. It is the moral responsibility of the Security Council to address itself to a meaningful, a lasting solution of the problem of Jammu and Kashmir.”

He reminded the Security Council that the last time he was here it was not prepared to give Pakistan a piece of paper called a resolution. The Security Council had called it a dead and dormant issue. “This can never be a dead issue, it can never be dormant.”

The speech to UNSC was followed six days later on September 28 by a much longer speech to the General Assembly which focused on the Kashmir dispute. First he laid down the basic principle; ceasefire this time must lead to a final settlement of the grave political problem underlying the conflict of the future of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto with Indira Gandhi in Shimla. (India Today)

He gave historical precedents of self-determination such as Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria expressly based on the principle of ascertaining and respecting the wishes of the people involved. To deny people their right to choose their own destiny as India denies it to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, the excuse given is that they are building multiracial or multi-religious societies and if they permit self-determination of one group or area their whole state may disintegrate. In pleading this excuse, they try to exploit the fear of dismemberment among many sovereign states.

He then quoted words of one of the foremost Indian ideologues, Jayaprakash Narayan, which vindicate his argument,

“If we are so sure of the verdict of the people of Kashmir, why are we so opposed to giving them another opportunity to reiterate it? The answer given is that this would start the process of disintegration of India. Few things that have been said in the course of this controversy are more silly than this one. The assumption behind the argument is that the states of India are held together by force and not by the sentiment of a common nationality. It is an assumption that makes a mockery of the Indian nation and a tyrant of the Indian state.”

He referred to the United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan. He said that the plan embodied in the Commission (UNCIP) resolutions of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949 provided for a ceasefire and the demarcation of a ceasefire line; the demilitarisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir; and a free and impartial plebiscite under the auspices of the UN to determine the question of the accession of the state to India or Pakistan. It was upon acceptance of both resolutions by India and Pakistan that hostilities ceased on January 1, 1949. Then, as now, the ceasefire was meant to be a prelude to a permanent settlement, which was to be achieved through a plebiscite under UN auspices after a synchronized withdrawal of forces.

Confronting India’s stand, he said that the whole history of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute is India’s exploitation of the ceasefire, the first part of the agreement, for evading the implementation of the other two parts, rather than facilitating them.

“But the non-performance of an agreement by one party cannot render it invalid or obsolete. If it did, there would be no order in international life and the entire basis of the United Nations Charter would be undermined. Even though the agreement embodied in the two United Nations resolutions was not implemented by India, the Security Council repeatedly made clear its binding nature as an agreement and affirmed that its provisions were recognised and accepted by both India and Pakistan.”

ZAB’s speech at the UN changed the history of Pakistan. Emerging as a national hero, he became immensely popular, especially in those districts where Indian bombs had fallen during the 1965 war. “0His speech was delivered on the world stage, which stunned the most powerful countries,” says Mubashir Hasan.

In January 1966, a few months after ZAB’s speech at the UN, India and Pakistan met at Tashkent under the watchful eye of the Russian President. The Indian delegation was headed by Lal Bahadur Shastri and the Pakistan delegation by Ayub Khan. The venue of the meeting was a hotel in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. There is a Pakistan Archives photo of General Ayub Khan and Lal Bahadur Shastri; behind them is a third figure, a glum-faced Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Newspaper Mashriq in Pakistan reported: “When Pakistan rejected the Indian compromise formula, Presidents Kosygin and Ayub held a discussion, the content of which was not revealed. Bhutto being the greatest impediment to this agreement was excluded from this meeting. Everybody knew that Bhutto was very unhappy with Tashkent.”

Kuldip Nayar, resident editor of The Statesman, reported: “Bhutto was in a sour mood from the beginning. All the Pakistan delegates greeted Shastri’s inaugural speech with loud cheers, Bhutto, however, sat passively with his arms crossed.” He wrote how ZAB was kept at a distance throughout by Ayub. After the inaugural speech, when the three leaders walked out to meet in a private room, ZAB tried to join them, but with a motion of his eye Ayub stopped him. Anger was large on the foreign minister’s face. He insisted that Kashmir be included for the reason that no peace between India and Pakistan was possible until this was settled. None of his suggestions were taken on board.

ZAB threatened to return to Pakistan and take the nation into confidence. His plea to Ayub Khan was to the effect, “Accept my resignation and let me go back to Larkana; and I cannot work with you anymore.” Being placed in a very tight spot, Ayub Khan pleaded with him not to resign or leave. He said, “If you resign at this time, the opposition will take advantage and there will be a chaos in the country with the result that both India and Russia will intervene.” Under great stress, ZAB stayed back for a day in Tashkent, but could no longer continue in Rawalpindi. He returned home to Larkana.

Pakistan Times reported ZAB’s statement which was issued from his home. “Although the Tashkent declaration has resumed the dialogue between India and Pakistan but no amount of platitudes can substitute or detract from the imperative need for a permanent settlement of the tragic dispute over Jammu & Kashmir.”

A year after ZAB left Ayub Khan’s government, he wrote his book, The Myth of Independence. The dispute over Kashmir, he argued, was no ordinary territorial dispute. If Pakistan were to settle for peace without securing the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir, it would be the first step in the establishment of Indian hegemony in South Asia, with smaller states reduced to the status of Indian satellites.

(Excerpted with permissions of Rupa Publications from Born to be hanged by Syeda Hameed.)


Last updated: February 13, 2018 | 11:11
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy