Ayub Khan

From New World Encyclopedia

Muhammad Ayub Khan

Field Marshal Muhammad Ayub Khan GCMG, MBE, Hilal-i-Jurat, NPk, (May 14, 1907 – April 19, 1974) was a Field Marshal during the mid-1960s, and the President of Pakistan from 1958 to 1969. He handed over power to Commander in Chief General Yahya Khan, whom he had promoted over the head of other senior officers. He became Pakistan's first native Commander in Chief in 1951, and was the youngest full-rank general and self-appointed Field Marshal in Pakistan's military history. He was also the first Pakistani military general to seize power through a coup. He dismissed the elected assembly, accusing it of being power hunger and corrupt. In this, he set a precedent which others, such as Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharaff have followed, manipulating the system to confirm and extend their presidencies. Military intervention was, and has been, in order to stabilize the country. In the ten years of his Presidency, the gross national product rose by an impressive 45 percent and manufactured goods began to replace the more traditional jute and cotton exports. However, his policies were designed to reward the elite families and the feudal lords, who, with the military, represented a ruling oligarchy that had little interest in restoring genuine democracy. As Zia did later, he gained millions of dollars of US aid by aligning Pakistan with the US against the Soviet Union. Yet this wealth was unequally distributed, so that the rich grew richer and the poor poorer. Having dismissed an elected government for allegedly being corrupt, he and his family amassed a fortune. More so than subsequent military dictators in Pakistan, he is responsible for creating an ethos in which popular participation in government is perceived as a privileged arena, and a ruling elite participate. Elected governments have been overthrown, charged with corruption or with inability to maintain national unity and stability.

Early life

Ayub Khan was born in the village of Rehana in Haripur District to a Hindko speaking family of the Tareen tribe, the first child of the second wife of Mir Dad Khan, who was a Risaldar-Major (the senior most non-commissioned rank) in Hodson's Horse, a cavalry regiment of the Royal Indian Army. For his basic education, he was enrolled in a school in Sarai Saleh, which was about four miles from his village. He used to go to school on a mule's back. Later he was shifted to a school in Haripur, where he started living with his grandmother. He enrolled at Aligarh University in 1922, but he did not complete his studies, as he was accepted into the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He did well at Sandhurst, and was given an officer's post in the British Indian Army and then joined the 1st Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment (Sherdils), later known as 5th Punjab Regiment. During World War II he served as a captain and later as a major on the Burma front. Following the war, he joined the fledgling Pakistani Army as the 10th ranking senior officer (his Pakistan Army number was 10). He was promoted to Brigadier and commanded a brigade in Waziristan and then was sent initially with the local rank of Major General to East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) as General Officer Commanding a division that was responsible for the whole East Wing of Pakistan in 1948, for which non-combatant service he was awarded the Hilal-i-Jurat (HJ) and from where he returned in November 1949 as Adjutant General and then briefly was named Deputy Commander-in-Chief.


Ayub Khan was made Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army on January 17, 1951, succeeding General Sir Douglas Gracey, thus becoming the first native Pakistani general to hold that position. The events surrounding his appointment set the precedent for a Pakistani general being promoted out of turn, ostensibly because he was the least ambitious of the Generals and the most loyal.

Defense Minister

He would later go on to serve in the second cabinet (1954) of Muhammad Ali Bogra as Defense Minister, and when Iskander Mirza declared martial law on October 7, 1958, Ayub Khan was made its chief martial law administrator. This would be the first of many instances in the history of Pakistan of the military becoming directly involved in politics.

President of Pakistan (1958 - 1969)

As a result of his having control of the Pakistan Army, Ayub deposed Mirza on October 27 in a bloodless coup, sending Generals Azam, Burki and Sheikh in the middle of the night to pack Mirza off to exile in England. This was actually welcomed in Pakistan, since the nation had experienced a very unstable political climate since independence.

In 1960, he held an indirect referendum of his term in power. Functioning as a kind of electoral college, close to 80,000 recently elected village councilmen were allowed to vote yes or no to the question: "Have you confidence in the President, Field Marshal Mohammed Ayub Khan?" Winning 95.6 percent of the vote, he used the confirmation as impetus to formalize his new system.

Ayub moved to have a constitution created, and this was completed in 1961. A fairly secular person by nature, Ayub Khan's constitution reflected his personal views of politicians and the use of religion in politics.

In 1962, he pushed through a new constitution that while it did give due respect to Islam, it did not declare Islam the state religion of the country. It also provided for election of the President by 80,000 (later raised to 120,000) basic democrats—men who could theoretically make their own choice but who were essentially under his control. The government "guided" the press and, while Ayub permitted a national assembly, it had only limited powers.

Legal reforms

Ayub Khan introduced the Muslim Family Laws through an Ordinance on March 2, 1961, under which unmitigated polygamy was abolished, consent of the current wife was made mandatory for a second marriage, brakes were also placed on the practice of instant divorce where men pronounced it irrevocably by pronouncing talaq thrice in one go. The Arbitration Councils set up under the law in the urban and rural areas were to deal with cases of (a) grant of sanction to a person to contract a second marriage during the subsistence of a marriage; (b) reconciliation of a dispute between a husband and a wife; (c) grant maintenance to the wife and children.[1]

Presidential Elections

In 1964, Ayub confident in his apparent popularity and seeing deep divisions within the political opposition, called for Presidential elections.

He was however taken by surprise when despite a brief disagreement between the five main opposition parties (a preference for a former close associate of Ayub Khan General Azam Khan as candidate was dropped), the joint opposition agreed on supporting the respected and popular Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Despite Jinnah's considerable popularity and public disaffection with Ayub's government,[2] Ayub won with 64 percent of the vote in a bitterly contested election on January 2, 1965. The election did not conform to international standards and journalists. It is widely held, as subsequent historians and analysts, almost uniformly say, that the elections were rigged in favor of Ayub Khan.

Foreign policy

As President, Ayub Khan allied Pakistan with the global U.S. military alliance against the Soviet Union. This in turn led to major economic aid from the U.S. and European nations, and the industrial sector of Pakistan grew very rapidly, improving the economy, but the consequences of cartelization included increased inequality in the distribution of wealth. It was under Ayub Khan that the capital was moved from Karachi to Rawalpindi, in anticipation of the construction of a new capital—Islamabad. In 1960, Khan's government signed the Indus Waters Treaty with archrival India to resolve disputes regarding the sharing of the waters of the six rivers in the Punjab Doab that flow between the two countries. Khan's administration also built a major network of irrigation canals, high-water dams and thermal and hydroelectric power stations.

Despite the Indus Waters Treaty, Ayub maintained icy relations with India. He established close political and military ties with Communist China, exploiting its differences with Soviet Russia and its 1962 war with India. To this day, China remains a strong economic, political and military ally of Pakistan.

Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

The turning point in his rule was the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Despite many repulsed Indian attacks, the war adversely affected Pakistan's then rapidly developing economy and it ended in a settlement reached by Ayub at Tashkent, called the Tashkent Declaration. The settlement was perceived negatively by many Pakistanis and led Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to resign his post and take up opposition to Khan. According to Morrice James, "For [Pakistanis] Ayub had betrayed the nation and had inexcusably lost face before the Indians."[3] The war also increased opposition in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) where the Awami League headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman sought more autonomy for the province.

General Ayub Khan who had assumed office of the commander in chief in 1951 dismissed the first constituent assembly on grounds that, "The constituent assembly being power hungry and having a tendency of being corrupt." Molvi Tammizudin the first speaker of the assembly challenged the dismissal (he had to take a rickshaw, wear a burka and go through Sindh court backdoor to seek for justice for a nation). Sindh court accepted the appeal but the Federal Court dismissed the Sindh court judgment as the "Doctrine of necessity." Later on the decision has been the basis of all autocratic adjustments in Pakistan.

The real power broker Ayub Khan as the commander in chief had come to the foreground. The rankers in Pakistan could not refuse the price offered by their “friends not masters.” Ayub Khan who writes in his biography that he used to go to school on a donkey back; his immediate generation became the owners of the Pan Asian group in Pakistan. This was how the autocrat defeated the mother of the nation in a referendum. The constitution of Pakistan during this phase was constantly molded to validate the illegitimate power and ulterior motives of a single family; consequently no grooming of the access of justice to the common people was allowed.

These were the years when Pakistan in 1963 imprudently allowed US to camp near Peshawar at Badaber and use its air space and air bases. It was then when that infamous bata bair U2 incident took place, the Red Circle on Pakistan’s map placed by Nikita Khrushev predestined Pakistan into an open conflict with the USSR.

While the 1965 conflict with India had to defer the referendum’s public vent, the ceasefire served the vested interests of at least two parties, the US till then was heavily occupied in Vietnam and could not spare resources itself. An increased Communist China Influence could have shifted the power influences in this critical region of that time; Vietnam was not a completely lost war till then. The causes of conflict were to be left unresolved, but Gen Ayub sanctioned himself to decorate to the Rank of Field Marshal instead of passing on credits to Gen Musa Khan the then commander in chief of the army.

Final Years in office

In 1969, he opened up negotiations with the opposition alliance, except for Maulana Bhashani and Zulfiqar Bhutto. However under increasing pressure from Bhutto and Bhashani who were allegedly encouraged to continue the agitation by elements within the Army and in violation of his own constitution which required him to transfer power to the speaker of the assembly. Ayub turned over control of Pakistan to Commander in Chief General Yahya Khan on 25 March 1969, He was the President's most loyal lieutenant, and was promoted over seven more senior generals in 1966 to the army's top post.


Ayub Khan's legacy is mixed—he was opposed to democracy believing like any other dictator that parliamentary democracy was not suited for the people of his country. Like many subsequent military dictators he was contemptuous of politicians and political parties. However, during his early years in office, he sided with the Americans against the Soviets, and in return received billions of dollars in aid, which resulted in enormous economic growth.

He subsidized fertilizers and modernized agriculture through irrigation development, spurred industrial growth with liberal tax benefits. In the decade of his rule, gross national product rose by 45 percent and manufactured goods began to overtake such traditional exports as jute and cotton. It is alleged that his policies were tailored to reward the elite families and the feudal lords. During the fall of his dictatorship, just when the government was celebrating the so-called "Decade of Development," mass protests erupted due an increasingly greater divide between the rich and the poor.

He shunned prestige projects and stressed birth control in a country that has the seventh largest population in the world: 115 million. He dismissed criticism with the comment that if there was no family planning, the time would surely come when "Pakistanis eat Pakistanis." In foreign affairs, he retained his ties to the West and to the United States in particular, allowing the United States to use the Badaber and Peshawar airbase for U-2 flights over the then Soviet Union.


Government corruption and nepotism, in addition to an environment of repression of free speech and political freedoms increased unrest. Criticisms of his sons and family's personal wealth increased, especially his son's actions after his father's election in the allegedly rigged 1964 Presidential elections against Fatima Jinnah is a subject of criticism by many writers. Gohar Ayub, it is said led a victory parade right into the heartland of Opposition territory in Karachi, in a blatantly provocative move and the civil administrations failure to stop the rally led to a fierce clashes between opposing groups with many locals being killed. Gohar Ayub also faced criticisms during that time on questions of family corruption and cronyism through his business links with his father-in-law retired Lt. General Habibullah Khan Khattak. One Western commentator in 1969 estimated Gohar Ayub's personal wealth at the time at $4 million dollars, while his family's wealth was put in the range of $10-$20 million dollars.

Ayub began to lose both power and popularity. On one occasion, while visiting East Pakistan, there was a failed attempt to assassinate him, though this was not reported in the press of the day.[4]

Ayub was persuaded by underlings to award himself the Nishan-e-Pakistan, Pakistan's highest civil award, on the grounds that to award it to other heads of state he should have it himself and also promoted himself to the rank of Field Marshal. He was to be Pakistan's second Field Marshal, if the first is regarded as Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck (1884-1981), supreme commander of military forces in India and Pakistan in the lead-up to independence in 1947.

Aggravating an already bad situation, with increasing economic disparity in the country under his rule, hoarding and manipulation by major sugar manufacturers resulted in the controlled price of one kg sugar to be increased by one rupee and the whole population took to the streets.[5] As Ayub's popularity plummeted, he decided to give up rule.

In 1971 when the Bangladesh War of Independence which led to the separation of East Pakistan broke out, Ayub Khan was in West Pakistan and did not comment on the events of the war. He died in 1974.

Personal life

Ayub Khan’s son Gohar Ayub Khan was Pakistan’s Foreign Minister in the Nawaz Sharif government. Gohar’s son and Ayub’s grandson Omar Ayub Khan is Pakistan’s current Minister of State for Finance.

Military offices
Preceded by:
Gen. Sir Douglas David Gracey
Commander in Chief of the Pakistan Army
Succeeded by:
General Musa Khan


  1. Abdul Sattar Ghazali (1997), Islamic Pakistan: Illusions and Reality chapter four, "The First Martial Law." Ghazali.net. Retrieved July 19, 2008.
  2. 1964, Trouble with Mother Time Magazine. Retrieved July 19, 2008.
  3. Victoria Schofield, Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War (London, UK: I.B. Tauris, 2003, ISBN 1860648983), 112.
  4. Abbasm Hassan Abbas, Pakistan's Drift Into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror (London, UK: M.E. Sharpe, 2004, ISBN 0765614979), 53.
  5. Ayaz Amir (2006), Comrade Stalin and the sugar question Dawn. Retrieved July 19, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Gauhar, Altaf. 1996. Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military ruler. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195776478
  • Hussain, Syed Shabbir. 2000. Ayub, Bhutto, and Zia: how they fell victim to their own plans. Lahore, PK: Sang-e-Meel Publications. ISBN 9789693510805
  • Khan, Muhammad Ayub. 1967. Friends Not Masters: A Political Autobiography. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.
  • Khan, Mohammad Ayub, and Craig Baxter. 2007. Diaries of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan: 1966-1972. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195474428
  • Ziring, Lawrence. 1971. The Ayub Khan era; politics in Pakistan, 1958-1969. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 9780815600756


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.