Muhammad Ayub Khan

Muhammad Ayub Khan

Muhammad Ayub Khan, a military leader and the second president of Pakistan, was born on May 14, 1907, in the village of Rehana. His father, Mir Dad Khan, served in the British Indian Army. After finishing his military training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in England, Ayub joined the army as an officer.

He fought against the Japanese in Burma in World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, he became the general commanding officer in East Pakistan. He was an able administrator and noncontroversial in politics, attributes that were instrumental in making him the first Pakistani commander in chief on January 17, 1951.

In the cold war period, Ayub supported Pakistan’s joining U.S.-sponsored military alliances, and Pakistan received massive military and economic assistance from the United States. When President Iskander Mirza (1899–1969) imposed martial law on October 7, 1958, Ayub became the chief martial law administrator. Eleven days afterward, he deposed Iskander and proclaimed himself president.

The presidency of Ayub was eventful in the history of Pakistan. There were reforms in the agricultural and industrial sectors with land reforms and job creation. There was construction of new dams and power stations.

The Indus Water Treaty with India in 1960 settled disputes over the waters of six rivers of the Punjab. The Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 tried to empower women in matters relating to polygamy, marriage, and divorce. Islamabad became the new capital in 1962; Ayub lifted martial law in the same year.

Ayub promulgated a new constitution in 1962, introducing democracy with indirect elections. But his policy alienated the Bengalis of eastern Pakistan, who felt marginalized and whose leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was imprisoned and prosecuted.

President of Pakistan Muhammad Ayub Khan with President John F. Kennedy in USA July 1961
President Muhammad Ayub Khan with President John F. Kennedy in USA July 1961

Ayub’s capital received a severe jolt from the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965. There were border skirmishes beginning in March in the Rann of Kutch region, but they did not escalate because of British mediation. In August, Ayub began Operation Gibraltar by sending infiltrators to Kashmir, a bone of contention between Pakistan and India in the original conflict.

India regained the territory occupied by Pakistan in the north and proceeded toward Lahore. Fearful of a widening conflict, the United Nations Security Council arranged for a cease-fire on September 22, and Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin invited Ayub and the Indian premier Lal Bahadur Shastri to Tashkent to negotiate.

The signing of the Tashkent Agreement on January 10, 1965, saw both the armies going back to the positions they had held before the conflict. The Cease-Fire Line (CFL) would become the de facto border. India and Pakistan agreed to resolve their disputes by peaceful means and not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.

There was adverse reaction to the Tashkent Agreement in Pakistan. The opposition parties blamed him for sacrificing Pakistan’s interests, and the foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1928–79) resigned, forming an opposition Pakistan People’s Party in 1967.

There were strikes and demonstrations throughout Pakistan. The army was called in in many cities. By the end of 1968, Ayub had lost the support of the majority of the population and a Democratic Action Committee was formed in January 1979 to restore democracy in Pakistan. The only course left for Ayub was resignation.

Martial law was proclaimed once again on March 25, 1969, and General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan (1917–80) was named the chief martial law administrator. Six days afterward he became the president. Ayub died on April 19, 1974.