Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan (Urdu: آغا محمد یحییٰ خان; 4 February 1917 – 10 August 1980), widely known as Yahya Khan, NePl, was the third President of Pakistan, serving in this post from 25 March 1969 until turning over his presidency in December 1971. His presidency witnessed the breaking-up of the unity of Pakistan from being the largest Muslim country in the world and economic and military collapse through foreign intervention in 1971.:50:47:1
Having participated in the Mediterranean theatre of World War II on behalf of Great Britain's British Indian Army, he opted for Pakistani citizenship and joined its military after the United Kingdom partitioned India in 1947, and helped in executing the covert infiltration in Indian Kashmir that sparked the war with India in 1965. After being controversially appointed to assume the army command, Yahya Khan took over the presidency and enforced martial law by suspending the constitution in 1969. Holding the nation's first nationwide elections in 1970, he delayed the power transition to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that inflamed the civil violent unrest in East-Pakistan and authorized the East Pakistani authorities to violently suppress the rebellion in what is today widely considered to have been a genocide .
Pakistan suffered a decisive defeat in the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, resulting in the dissolution of Eastern Command, Pakistani loss of geopolitical influence in the Muslim world, and the secession of East Pakistan as Bangladesh– thus Yahya Khan's rule is widely regarded as a leading cause of the break-up of the unity of Pakistan.:15 Following these events, he turned over the leadership of the country to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and resigned from the command of the military in disgrace. He was then stripped of his service honors and put under house surveillance for most of the 1970s.
After being released from these restrictions in 1977, he died in Rawalpindi in 1980. He is viewed largely negatively by Pakistani historians and is considered among the least successful of the country's leaders.
|یحییٰ خان |
|3rd President of Pakistan|
25 March 1969 – 20 December 1971
|Prime Minister||None (1969–71)
Nurul Amin (1971)
|Preceded by||Ayub Khan|
|Succeeded by||Zulfikar Ali Bhutto|
|Commander in Chief (Pakistan Army)|
18 June 1966 – 20 December 1971
|Deputy||General Abdul Hamid Khan|
|Preceded by||General Musa Khan|
|Succeeded by||Lt. General Gul Hassan|
|Born||Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan
4 February 1917
Chakwal, Punjab, British India
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)
|Died||10 August 1980 (aged 63)
|Resting place||Peshawar,KPK ,Pakistan|
|Nationality||British Indian (1917–1947)
|Alma mater||Punjab University
Indian Military Academy
Command and General Staff College
Civilian awardsNishane-e-Pakistan (withdrawn)
|Service/branch|| British Indian Army
|Years of service||1939–1971|
|Unit||4th battalion, 10th Baluch Regiment (S/No. PA–98)|
|Commands||Deputy C-in-C of the army
GOC 7th Division (Peshawar)
15th Division, Sialkot
14th Division, Dacca
105th Independent Brigade
Military awardsHilal-e-Jurat (withdrawn)
Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan was born in Chakwal, Punjab, British Indian Empire on 4 February 1917, according to the references written by Russian sources. He and his family were of Pathan (Pashtun) origin.
Few Pakistanis knew anything about Yahya Khan when he was vaulted into the presidency two years ago. The stocky, bushy–browed Pathan had been the army chief of staff since 1966...
According to Indian writer Dewan Berindranath's book Private Life of Yahya Khan (published in 1974), Yahya's father worked in the British Indian Police, in Punjab province. He joined as a head constable and retired as a deputy superintendent, and Yahya was very hard working and meritorious and serious on his studies, he studied in the prestigious Col. Brown Cambridge School Dehradun and later enrolled at the University of Punjab from where he passed B.A., in his time it was two-year course.
Yahya Khan was commissioned from Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun on 15 July 1939. An infantry officer from the 4th/10th Baluch Regiment (4th Battalion of 10th Baluch Regiment, later amalgamated with the modern and current form of Baloch Regiment, 'Baloch' was spelled as 'Baluch' in Yahya's time), Yahya saw action during World War II in North Africa where he was captured by the Axis Forces in June 1942 and interned in a prisoner of war camp in Italy from where he escaped in the third attempt.
After World War II, he decided to join the Pakistan Army in 1947, he had already been reached to the rank of Major. In this year he was instrumental in not letting the Indian officers shift books from the famous library of the British Indian Army Staff College (now Command and Staff College) at Quetta, where Yahya was posted as the only Muslim instructor at the time of partition of India. At the age of 34, he was promoted to Brigadier and is still considered the youngest one-star officer in the history of Pakistan Armed Forces. He was appointed as commander of the "105 Independent Brigade" that was deployed in LoC ceasefire region in Jammu and Kashmir in 1951–1952. He was described as a "hard drinking soldier" who liked both his women (prostitutes) and wine ; though he was a meritorious and professional soldier. Later Yahya, as Deputy Chief of General Staff, was selected to head the army's planning board set up by Ayub Khan to modernize the Pakistan Army in 1954–57. Yahya also performed the duties of Chief of General Staff from 1958 to 1962 from where he went on to command an infantry division from 1962 to 1965. Yahya also co-founded the Command and Staff College in Quetta, Balochistan. He played a pivotal role in sustaining the support for President Ayub Khan's campaign in 1965 presidential elections against Fatima Jinnah. In recognition, he was promoted as Major-General and made GOC of 7th Infantry Division of Pakistan Army, which he commanded during the 1965 war with India. At this assignment, he was not instrumental in planning and executing the military infiltration operation, the Grand Slam, which failed miserably due to General Yahya's delay owing to change of command decision, the Indian Army crossed the intentional border and made a beeline for Lahore.
Despite his failures, Yahya was promoted as Lieutenant-General after his promotion papers were personally approved by President Ayub Khan in 1966, at a stint as an appointed Deputy Army Commander in Chief. He was appointed as commander-in-chief of Pakistan Army in March 1966 and took command in June. At promotion, Yahya Khan superseded two of his seniors: Lieutenant-General Altaf Qadir and Lieutenant-General Bakhtiar Rana.
Yahya became C-in-C at the age of 49, the youngest officer in Pakistan's military history to head a large army. He energetically started reorganizing the Pakistan Army in 1965. The post-1965 situation saw major organizational as well as technical changes in the Pakistan Army. Till 1965 it was thought that divisions could function effectively while getting orders directly from the army's GHQ. This idea failed miserably in the 1965 war and the need to have intermediate corps headquarters in between the GHQ and the fighting combat divisions was recognized as a foremost operational necessity after the 1965 war. In 1965 war the Pakistan Army had only one corps headquarters (i.e. the 1st Corps Headquarters).
Soon after the war had started the U.S. had imposed an embargo on military aid to both India and Pakistan. This embargo did not affect the Indian Army but produced major changes in the Pakistan Army's technical composition. US Secretary of State Dean Rusk well summed it up when he said, "Well if you are going to fight, go ahead and fight, but we’re not going to pay for it".
Pakistan now turned to China for military aid and the Chinese tank T-59 started replacing the US M-47/48 tanks as the Pakistan Army's MBT (Main Battle Tank) from 1966. 80 tanks, the first batch of T-59s, a low-grade version of the Russian T-54/55 series were delivered to Pakistan in 1965–66. The first batch was displayed in the Joint Services Day Parade on 23 March 1966. The 1965 War had proved that Pakistan Army's tank-infantry ratio was lopsided and more infantry was required. Three more infantry divisions (9, 16 and 17 Divisions) largely equipped with Chinese equipment and popularly referred to by the rank and file as "The China Divisions" were raised by the beginning of 1968. Two more corps headquarters i.e. 2nd Corps Headquarters (Jhelum-Ravi Corridor) and 4th Corps Headquarters (Ravi-Sutlej Corridor) were raised.
Ayub Khan was President of Pakistan for most of the 1960s, but by the end of the decade, popular resentment had boiled over against him. Pakistan had fallen into a state of disarray, and he handed over power to Yahya Khan, who immediately imposed martial law. Once Ayub handed over power to Yahya Khan on 25 March 1969 Yahya inherited a two-decade constitutional problem of inter-provincial ethnic rivalry between the Punjabi-Pashtun-Mohajir dominated West Pakistan province and the ethnically Bengali Muslim East Pakistan province. In addition, Yahya also inherited an 11 year old problem of transforming an essentially one man ruled country to a democratic country, which was the ideological basis of the anti-Ayub movement of 1968–69. As an Army Chief Yahya had all the capabilities, qualifications and potential. But Yahya inherited an extremely complex problem and was forced to perform the multiple roles of caretaker head of the country, drafter of a provisional constitution, resolving the One Unit question, satisfying the frustrations and the sense of exploitation and discrimination successively created in the East Wing by a series of government policies since 1948. All these were complex problems and the seeds of Pakistan Army's defeat and humiliation in December 1971 lay in the fact that Yahya Khan blundered unwittingly into the thankless task of fixing the problems of Pakistan's political and administrative system which had been accumulating for 20 years and had their actual origins in the pre-1947 British policies towards the Bengali Muslims.
The American political scientist Lawrence Ziring observed that,
Yahya Khan has been widely portrayed as a ruthless uncompromising insensitive and grossly inept leader ... While Yahya cannot escape responsibility for these tragic events, it is also on record that he did not act alone ... All the major actors of the period were creatures of a historic legacy and a psycho-political milieu which did not lend itself to accommodation and compromise, to bargaining and a reasonable settlement. Nurtured on conspiracy theories, they were all conditioned to act in a manner that neglected agreeable solutions and promoted violent judgments.
Yahya Khan attempted to solve Pakistan's constitutional and inter-provincial/regional rivalry problems once he took over power from Ayub Khan in March 1969. The tragedy of the whole affair was the fact that all actions that Yahya took, although correct in principle, were too late in timing, and served only to further intensify the political polarisation between the East and West wings.
However, dissolution of one unit did not lead to the positive results that it might have led to in case "One Unit" was dissolved earlier. Yahya also made an attempt to accommodate the East Pakistanis by abolishing the principle of parity, thereby hoping that greater share in the assembly would redress their wounded ethnic regional pride and ensure the integrity of Pakistan. Instead of satisfying the Bengalis it intensified their separatism since they felt that the west wing had politically suppressed them since 1958. Thus the rise of anti-West Wing sentiment in the East Wing. During the course of 1968, the political pressure exerted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had weakened the President Ayub Khan, who had earlier sacked Bhutto after disagreeing with President Ayub's decision to implement on Tashkent Agreement, facilitated by the Soviet Union to end the hostilities with India. To ease the situation, President Ayub tried reaching out to terms with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami League (AL), but remain unsuccessful. In poor health, President Ayub abrogated his own constitution and suddenly resigned from the presidency.
On 24 March 1969, President Ayub directed a letter to General Yahya Khan, inviting him to deal with the situation, as it was "the beyond the capacity of (civil) government to deal with the... Complex situation." On 26 March 1969, General Yahya appeared in national television and announced to enforce a martial law in all over the country. The 1962 Constitution was abrogated, dissolved the parliament, and dismissed the President Ayub's civilian officials. In his first nationwide address, Yahya maintained: "I will not tolerate disorder. Let everyone remain at his post."
On immediate effect, he installed a military government and featured active duty military officials:
|Ministers||Portrait||Ministries and departments||Inter–Services|
|General Yahya Khan||President and Chief Martial Law Administrator
Information and Broadcasting
Law and Justice
Foreign and Defence
|General Abdul Hamid Khan||Deputy CMLA
Interior and Kashmir Affairs
|Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan||Deputy CMLA
Finance and Planning Commission
Statistics, Commerce, and Industry
|Air-Marshal Nur Khan||Deputy CMLA
Communications and Health
Labour and Science and Technology
|Pakistan Air Force|
President Yahya was well aware of this explosive situation and decided to bring changes all over the country. His earlier initiatives directed towards establishing the National Security Council (NSC) with Major-General Ghulam Omar being its first advisor. It was formed to analyze and prepare assessments towards issues relating the political and national security.
Secondly in 1969, President Yahya promulgated the Legal Framework Order No. 1970 which disestablished the One Unit programme where West Pakistan was formed. Instead, LFO No. 1970 hence removed the prefix West, instead adding Pakistan. The decree has no effect on East Pakistan. Following this, President Yahya announced to held nationwide general elections in 1970, and appointed Judge Abdus Sattar as Chief Election Commissioner of Election Commission of Pakistan. Changes were carried out by President Yahya to reversed the country back towards parliamentary democracy.
By July 28, 1969, President Yahya had set a framework for elections that were to be held in December 1970. Finally, the general elections were held in all over the country. In East Pakistan, the Awami League led by Mujibur Rahman held almost all mandate, but no seat in any of four provinces of West Pakistan. The socialist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had won the exclusive mandate in the four provinces of Pakistan, but none in the East-Pakistan. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML) led by Nurul Amin was the only party to have representation from all over the country, though it had failed to gain the mandate to run the government. The Awami League had 160 seats, all won from the East-Pakistan; the socialist PPP had secured 81; the conservative PML had 10 seats in the National Assembly. The general elections's results truly reflected the ugly political reality: the division of the Pakistani electorate along regional lines and political polarization of the country between the two states, East Pakistan and Pakistan.
In political terms, therefore, Pakistan as a nation stood divided as a result. Series of bilateral talks between PPP and Mujibur Rahman produced to results and were unable to come to an agreement of transfer of power from to East-Pakistan's representatives on the basis of the Six-Point programme. In Pakistan, the people had felt that the Six-point agenda was a step towards secession. In recent media reports, it since emerged that Mujib met Indian diplomats in London according to his daughter in 1969 from where he agreed to secede from Pakistan 
While, the political deadlock remains between the Awami League, PPP, and the military government after the general elections in 1970. During this time, Yahya began coordinating several meetings with his military strategists over the issue in East Pakistan. On 25 March 1971, President Yahya initiated the Searchlight in order to restore the writ of the government. The situation in East-Pakistan worsened and the gulf between the two wings now was too wide to be bridged. Agitation was now transformed into a vicious insurgency as Bengali elements of Pakistan armed forces and Police mutinied and formed Bangladesh Forces along with common people of all classes to launch both unconventional and hit and run operations.
The Searchlight ordered by Yahya was a violent planned military pacification carried out by the Pakistan Armed Forces to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in erstwhile East Pakistan in March 1971. Ordered by the government in Pakistan, this was seen as the sequel to Operation Blitz which had been launched in November 1970.
The original plan envisioned taking control of the major cities on 26 March 1971, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military, within one month. The prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by Pakistani planners. The main phase of Operation Searchlight ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid-May.
The total number of people killed in East Pakistan is not known with any degree of accuracy. Bangladeshi authorities claim that 3 million people were killed, while the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistan Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties. According to Sarmila Bose, between 50,000 and 100,000 combatants and civilians were killed by both sides during the war. A 2008 British Medical Journal study by Ziad Obermeyer, Christopher J. L. Murray, and Emmanuela Gakidou estimated that up to 269,000 civilians died as a result of the conflict; the authors note that this is far higher than a previous estimate of 58,000 from Uppsala University and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo. According to Serajur Rahman, the official Bangladeshi estimate of "3 lahks" (300,000) was wrongly translated into English as 3 million.
Khan arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on charges of sedition and appointed Brigadier Rahimuddin Khan (later General) to preside over a special tribunal dealing with Mujib's case. Rahimuddin awarded Mujib the death sentence, and President Yahya put the verdict into abeyance. Yahya's crackdown, however, had led to a Bangladesh Liberation War within Pakistan and eventually drew India into what would extend into the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The end result was the establishment of Bangladesh as an independent republic. Khan subsequently apologized for his mistakes and voluntarily stepped down.
The United States had been a major sponsor of President Yahya's military government. American journalist Gary J. Bass notes in The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide that, "President Nixon liked very few people, but he did like General Yahya Khan." Personal initiatives of President Yahya had helped to establish the communication channel between the United States and the China, which would be used to set up the Nixon's trip in 1972.
Since 1960, Pakistan was perceived in the United States as an integral bulwark against global Communism in the Cold War. The United States cautiously supported Pakistan during 1971 although Congress kept in place an arms embargo. In 1970, India with a heavily socialist economy entered in a formal alliance with the Soviet Union in August 1971.
Nixon relayed several written and oral messages to President Yahya, strongly urging him to restrain the use of Pakistan forces. His objective was to prevent a war and safeguard Pakistan's interests, though he feared an Indian invasion of Pakistan that would lead to Indian domination of the subcontinent and strengthen the position of the Soviet Union. Similarly, President Yahya feared that an independent Bangladesh could lead to the disintegration of Pakistan. Indian military support for Bengali guerrillas led to war between India and Pakistan.
In 1971, Richard Nixon met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and did not believe her assertion that she would not invade Pakistan; Nixon did not trust her and even once referred to her as an "old witch". Witness accounts presented by Kissinger pointed out that Nixon made specific proposals to Prime Minister Gandhi on a solution for the crisis, some of which she heard for the first time, including a mutual withdrawal of troops from the Indo-East Pakistan borders. Nixon also expressed a wish to fix a time limit with Yahya for political accommodation in East Pakistan. Nixon asserted that India could count on US endeavors to ease the crisis within a short time. But, both Kissinger and Gandhi's aide Jayakar maintained, Gandhi did not respond to these proposals. Kissinger noted that she "listened to what was, in fact, one of Nixon's better presentations with aloof indifference" but "took up none of the points." Jayakar pointed out that Gandhi listened to Nixon "without a single comment, creating an impregnable space so that no real contact was possible." She also refrained from assuring that India would follow Pakistan's suit if it withdrew from India's borders. As a result, the main agenda was "dropped altogether."
On 3 December, Yahya preemptively attacked the Indian Air Force and Gandhi retaliated, pushing into East Pakistan. Nixon issued a statement blaming Pakistan for starting the conflict and blaming India for escalating it because he favored a cease-fire. The United States was secretly encouraging the shipment of military equipment from Iran, Turkey, and Jordan to Pakistan, reimbursing those countries despite Congressional objections. The US used the threat of an aid cut-off to force Pakistan to back down, while its continued military aid to Islamabad prevented India from launching incursions deeper into the country. Pakistan forces in East Pakistan surrendered on 16 December 1971 leading to the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh.
When the news of surrender of West Pakistan reached through the national television, the spontaneous and overwhelming public anger over Pakistan's defeat by Bangladeshi rebels and the Indian Army, followed by the division of Pakistan into two parts boiled into street demonstrations throughout Pakistan. Rumors of an impending coup d'état by junior military officers against President Yahya swept the country. Yahya became the highest-ranking casualty of the war: to forestall further unrest, on 20 December 1971 he handed over the presidency and government to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto— the ambitious leader of Pakistan's powerful and popular (at that time) People's Party.
Within hours of Yahya stepping down, President Bhutto reversed JAG's verdict against Mujibur Rehman and instead released him to see him off to London. President Bhutto also signed orders for Yahya's house confinement, the man who imprisoned Mujib in the first place. Both actions produced headlines around the world.
Yahya remained under house arrest orders until 1979 when he was released from the custody by martial law administrator General Fazle Haq. He remained out from the public events and died on 10 August 1980 in Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan. He died of over-indulgence from alcohol.
Yahya Khan was a Pathan – Like Ayub and most of the generals.
(...) handing it down to General Aga Mohammad Yahya Khan, a much smaller Pathan, and a heavier drinker.
Ayub Khan and Agha Yahya Khan were Pathans, and the Pathans had a strong presence in the armed forces.
Ayub Khan Mohammad, a Pathan and Pakistani soldier (...)
A burly, double chinned, bushy-browed slothful Yahya Khan was, like Ayub Khan, an ethnic Pashtun.
Sher Ali Khan Pataudi
|Chief of General Staff
Malik Sher Bahadur
|Chief of Army Staff
Gul Hassan Khan
|President of Pakistan
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
|Chief Martial Law Administrator
Mian Arshad Hussain
|Minister of Foreign Affairs
Afzal Rahman Khan
|Minister of Defence