Yahya Khan

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Yahya Khan
یحییٰ خان
ইয়াহিয়া খান
Yahya Khan (cropped version).jpg
3rd President of Pakistan
In office
26 March 1969 – 20 December 1971
Prime Minister Nurul Amin
Preceded by Ayub Khan
Succeeded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
5 April 1969 – 20 December 1971
Prime Minister Nurul Amin
Preceded by Mian Arshad Hussain
Succeeded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Minister of Defence
In office
5 April 1969 – 20 December 1971
Prime Minister Nurul Amin
Preceded by Afzal Rahman Khan
Succeeded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Army Commander-in-Chief
In office
18 June 1966 – 20 December 1971
Deputy Abdul Hamid Khan
Preceded by Muhammad Musa
Succeeded by Gul Hassan Khan
Personal details
Born Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan
(1917-02-04)4 February 1917
Chakwal, Punjab, British India
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)[1]
Died 10 August 1980(1980-08-10) (aged 63)
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
Political party Independent
Domestic partner Akleem Akhtar
Alma mater Col.Brown Cambridge School
University of the Punjab
Religion Islam
Awards Hilal-e-Pakistan
Military service
Allegiance  British Raj
Service/branch  British Indian Army
 Pakistan Army
Years of service 1939–1971
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Unit 10th Battalion, Baloch Regiment (PA – 98)
Commands 111th Infantry Brigade
Deputy Chief of General Staff
Chief of General Staff
14th Infantry Division
15th Infantry Division
Deputy Commander-in-Chief
Battles/wars World War II
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971

Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan (Urdu: آغا محمد یحیی خان, Bengali: আগা মুহাম্মদ ইয়াহিয়া খান 4 February 1917 – 10 August 1980), popularly known as Yahya Khan was a four-star general and statesman who served as the third President of Pakistan from 1969 until the fall of East-Pakistan as a follow-up to Pakistan's defeat in the war with India in 1971.[2] Serving with distinction in World War II as a British Indian Army officer, Yahya opted for Pakistan in 1947 and held critical command assignments.

After helping to conduct military infiltration against India in the 1965 war, Yahya was appointed commander-in-chief of army in 1966– a position he held until the final days of 1971 war. Amid political upheaval forced President Ayub Khan to resign in 1969, Yahya installed a military government after enforcing the martial law for the second time in Pakistan's history.[2] After promulgating executive order to disestablishment West-Pakistan, he held the country's first nationwide free and fair general elections in 1970, which witnessed Awami League led by Mujibur Rahman gaining majority in East Pakistan. Under pressured by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto whose PPP which had won from the four provinces of Pakistan but had far fewer votes, Yahya delayed handing over power to Awami League. As civil unrest erupted all over East Pakistan, Yahya initiated military operations to quell the rebellion.[3] With reports of genocide by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators against Bengali civilians. During the nine-month-long Bangladesh war for independence, members of the Pakistani military and supporting militias killed about 3,000,000[4][5] people.

Tensions escalated with India, which intervened on the side of the Mukti Bahini insurgency in 1971.[6] In the resulting Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, which lasted less than two weeks, Pakistan surrendered its eastern command, with about 93,000 soldiers in East-Pakistan becoming prisoners-of-war. Following the independence of Bangladesh, powerful public demonstrations and mass rallies against Yahya in Pakistan forced him to hand over the power to Zulfikar Bhutto as well as stepping down from the post of commander-in-chief in disgrace.[7] Military decorations and honors were stripped from Yahya and he was placed under house arrest for most of the 1970s.[7] With Bhutto's removal in 1977, Yahya was released by provincial administrator Fazle Haq.[2] He died in 1980 in Rawalpindi.[8] He is viewed largely negatively by Pakistani historians, and is considered among the least successful of the country's leaders.[9] He is also accused to be inept, womanizer and alcoholic.[10]

Early life[edit]

Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan was born in Chakwal, Punjab, British Indian Empire[11] on 4 February 1917, according to the references written by Russian sources .[12][13][14][15] According to sources his family descended from the elite soldier class of Nader Shah of Khorasan.[16][15][17]

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...

—Editorial, Time, 2 August 1971, source[18]

Military career[edit]

Yahya entered in the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun and was commissioned into the Indian Army during World War II Indian Army in 1938.[17] He performed well and served with distinction during the World War II in North African theater, and was taken as the Prisoner of war (POW) by Italy.[17] He escaped from there on his third attempt.[17] His active service further saw actions as part of the 4th Infantry Division in the North Africa, Middle East, and Mediterranean theatres of the war, including Iraq, Italy, and North Africa.[2]

1965 war and Commander-in-chief[edit]

After the World War II, he decided to join the Pakistan Army in 1947.[17] At the age of 34, he was promoted as Brigadier-General and commanded the 106th Infantry Brigade that was deployed in LoC ceasefire region in Jammu and Kashmir.[17] He was described as a "hard drinking soldier" who liked both his women and wine; though he was a professional soldier.[17] Yahya also co-founded the Command and Staff College in Quetta, Balochistan.[2] He played a pivotal role in sustaining the support for President Ayub Khan's campaign in 1965 presidential elections against Fatima Jinnah.[12] 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 blunderous delay owing to change of command decision, the Indian Army crossed the intentional border and made a beeline for Lahore.[17]

Despite failure and to utter disgust, 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.[17] He was appointed as commander-in-chief of Pakistan Army in March 1966.[17] At promotion, Yahya Khan superseded two of his seniors: Lieutenant-General Altaf Qadir and Lieutenant-General Bakhtiar Rana.[19]

President of Pakistan[edit]

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.[20] To ease the situation, President Ayub tried reaching out to terms with Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Awami League (AL), but remain unsuccessful.[20] In poor health, President Ayub abrogated his own constitution and suddenly resigned from the presidency.[21]

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."[22] 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.[22] In his first nationwide address, Yahya maintained: "I will not tolerate disorder. Let everyone remain at his post."[23]

On immediate effect, he installed a military government and featured active duty military officials:

National Security Council and LFO[edit]

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.[25] It was formed to analyze and prepare assessments towards issues relating the political and national security.[25]

Secondly in 1969, President Yahya promulgated the Legal Framework Order No. 1970 which disestablished the One Unit programme where West Pakistan was formed.[26] Instead, LFO No. 1970 hence removed the prefix West, instead adding Pakistan.[26] The decree has no effect on East Pakistan.[26] 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.[20] Changes were carried out by President Yahya to reversed the country back towards parliamentary democracy.[20]

Last days of East Pakistan[edit]

1970 general elections[edit]

By 28 July 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 [27]

Genocide in East-Pakistan[edit]

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. Partially successful, 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.[citation needed]

The Searchlight ordered by Yahya was a planned military pacification carried out by the Pakistan Armed Forces to curb the Bengali nationalist movement in erstwhile East Pakistan in March 1971[28] 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,[29] within one month. The prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by Pakistani planners.[30] 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.[31] Bangladeshi authorities claim that 3 million people were killed,[32] while the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistan Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties.[33] According to Sarmila Bose, between 50,000 and 100,000 combatants and civilians were killed by both sides during the war.[34] 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.[35] According to Serajur Rahman, the official Bangladeshi estimate of "3 lahks" (300,000) was wrongly translated into English as 3 million.[36]

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,[citation needed] 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 apologised for his mistakes and voluntarily stepped down.

The US role[edit]

The United States had been a major sponsor of President Yahya's military government, as noted in a reference written by Gary Bass in the "The Blood Telegram": "President Nixon liked very few people, but he did like General Yahya Khan."[37] 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.[38]

Since 1960, Pakistan was perceived in the United States as an integral bulwark against the globalized Communism in the Cold War. The United States cautiously supported Pakistan during 1971 although Congress kept in place an arms embargo.[39] In 1970, India with a heavily socialist economy entered in a formal alliance with the Soviet Union in August 1971. Moreover, noting that India was using the violence committed by all sides during this war as a pretext for a possible military intervention, they suspected that India had aggressive intentions.[40]

Over this period, Henry Kissinger would work to prevent sectarian conflicts in Yemen and Lebanon from devolving into regional wars under President Nixon. The Soviet Union's growing support and influence in the Afghanistan, the Nixon administration used Pakistan to try to deter any further Soviet encroachment in the region.[citation needed] Nixon relayed several written and oral messages to President Yahya, strongly urging him to restrain the use of Pakistan forces.[41] 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.[42] 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.[43]

In 1971, Richard Nixon met Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and did not believe her assertion that she would not invade Pakistan;[44] Nixon did not trust her and even once referred to her as an "old witch".[45] 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."[46]

On 3 December, Yahya preemptively attacked the Indian Air Force and Gandhi retaliated, pushing into East Pakistan.[47] Nixon issued a statement blaming Pakistan for starting the conflict and blaming India for escalating it[47] because he favored a cease-fire.[48] The United States was secretly encouraging the shipment of military equipment from Iran, Turkey, and Jordan to Pakistan, reimbursing those countries[49] despite Congressional objections.[50] 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. A cease fire was reached on 16 December, leading to the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh.[51]

Fall from power[edit]

When the news of surrender of East Pakistan reaches 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 to 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 People's Party.

Within hours of Yahya stepping down, President Bhutto reversed JAG's verdict against Mujibur Rehman and instead releasing him to saw 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 round the world.


Yahya remained under the 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.


  1. ^ http://storyofpakistan.com/yahya-khan/
  2. ^ a b c d e Tory of Pakistan:Editorial (1 June 2003). "Yahya Khan". Story of Pakistan Foundation. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  3. ^ Shaikh Aziz (25 December 2011). "A chapter from history: Yahya Khan’s quick action". Dawn Newspapers. Dawn Newspapers. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  4. ^ "Bangladesh sets up war crimes court – Central & South Asia". Al Jazeera. 25 March 2010. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  5. ^ Obermeyer, Ziad et al. (June 2008). "Fifty years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia: analysis of data from the world health survey programme". British Medical Journal. 
  6. ^ Press Release. "http://www.storyofpakistan.com/articletext.asp?artid=A070&Pg=1". Story of Pakistan, Final years. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Press Release. "Zulfikar Ali Bhutto becomes President [1971]". Zulfikar Ali Bhutto becomes President [1971]. 
  8. ^ Ahmed, Munir (2001). "خان کی کہانی ان کے بیٹے علی یحٰیی کی زبانی". جنرل محمد یحٰیی خان: شخصیت و سیاسی کردار (in Urdu). Lahore, Pakistan: آصف جاوید برائے نگارشات پبلشرز. p. 240. 
  9. ^ Yahya Khan considered major villain within the country - Story of Pakistan
  10. ^ Pakistan declassifies 1971 war report, BBC, 2014-08-24
  11. ^ http://storyofpakistan.com/yahya-khan/
  12. ^ a b editor, Alexander Mikaberidze, (2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World a Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIOm 2011. ISBN 1598843370. 
  13. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan
  14. ^ Democracy, security, and development in India. By Raju G. C. Thomas.
  15. ^ a b John Keay (2010). India A History : From the Earliest Civilisation to the Boom of the Twenty-first Century. New York, N.Y. U.S.A: Harper Collins Publishers. p. 700. ISBN 0802195504. 
  16. ^ http://prezi.com/prxphrf607-8/yahya-khan/
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bhattacharya, IA, Brigadier (retd.) Samir (2013). Nothing But! Book Three: What Price Freedom. New Delhi India: Partridge Publishing. ISBN 1482816253. 
  18. ^ Editorial (2 August 1971). "Good Soldier Yahya Khan". Time magazine. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  19. ^ Brig A.R. Siddiqui. "Army's top slot: the seniority factor" Dawn, 25 April 2004
  20. ^ a b c d Akbar, M.K. (1997). Pakistan from Jinnah to Sharif. New Delhi: Mittal Publications. ISBN 8170996740. 
  21. ^ Peter R. Blood (1996). Pakistan: A Country Study. United States: Diane Publication Co. ISBN 0788136313. 
  22. ^ a b Omar, Imtiaz (2002). Emergency powers and the courts in India and Pakistan. England: KLUWER LAW INTERNATIONAL. ISBN 904111775X. 
  23. ^ KrishnaRao, K.V. (1991). Prepare or perish : a study of national security. New Delhi: Lancer Publ. ISBN 817212001X. 
  24. ^ a b c d Dr. GN. Kazi. "Pakistan's Smallest Cabinet". Dr. GN. Kazi. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  25. ^ a b PILDT. "The Evolution of National Security Council in Pakistan". Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency. PILDT. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  26. ^ a b c Newberg, Paula R. (2002). Judging the state : courts and constitutional politics in Pakistan (1st paperback ed. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521894409. 
  27. ^ http://www.pakhistorian.com/?p=498
  28. ^ Sarmila Bose Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971: Military Action: Operation Searchlight Economic and Political Weekly Special Articles, 8 October 2005
  29. ^ Salik, Siddiq, Witness To Surrender, p63, p228-9 id = ISBN 984-05-1373-7
  30. ^ Pakistan Defence Journal, 1977, Vol 2, p2-3
  31. ^ Bass 2013 reviews the various estimates here.
  32. ^ White, Matthew, Death Tolls for the Major Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century
  33. ^ Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, chapter 2, paragraph 33
  34. ^ Jack, Ian, "It's not the arithmetic of genocide that's important. It's that we pay attention", The Guardian, 20 May 2011.
  35. ^ Obermeyer, Ziad, et al., "Fifty years of violent war deaths from Vietnam to Bosnia: analysis of data from the world health survey programme", British Medical Journal, June 2008.
  36. ^ Rahman, Serajur, "Mujib's confusion on Bangladeshi deaths", Letters, The Guardian, 23 May 2011.
  37. ^ Bass, Gary J. (2013). The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. New York, NY: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-70020-9. 
  38. ^ Kissinger's Secret Trip to China
  39. ^ Mosleh Uddin. "Personal Prejudice Makes Foreign Policy". Asiaticsociety.org.bd. Retrieved 2011-03-28. 
  40. ^ "RICHARD NIXON TAPES: Henry Kissinger on Indians & Vietnam Bombings". YouTube. 26 December 1971. Retrieved 2011-03-28. 
  41. ^ Black, Conrad (2007), p. 751.
  42. ^ "The Kissinger Tilt". Time. 17 January 1972. Retrieved 30 September 2008. 
  43. ^ "World: Pakistan: The Ravaging of Golden Bengal". TIME. 2 August 1971. Retrieved 2011-03-28. 
  44. ^ Black, Conrad (2007), p. 752
  45. ^ Chowdhury, Debasish Roy (23 June 2005). "'Indians are bastards anyway'". Asia Times. Retrieved 4 May 2009. 
  46. ^ Jayakar, Indira Gandhi, p. 232; Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 878 & 881–82.
  47. ^ a b Black, Conrad (2007), p. 753.
  48. ^ Black, Conrad (2007), p. 755.
  49. ^ Black, Conrad (2007), p. 756.
  50. ^ Gandhi, Sajit (16 December 2002). "The Tilt: The U.S. and the South Asian Crisis of 1971". National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 79. National Security Archive. Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  51. ^ Black, Conrad (2007), p. 757.


  • Bass, Gary J. (2013). The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide. New York, NY: Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-70020-9. 
  • Conrad Black (2008) [2007]. Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. New York, NY: PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781586486747. 


  • Sharlach, Lisa (2000). "Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda". New Political Science 1 (22): 89. doi:10.1080/713687893. It is also rape unto death, rape as massacre, rape to kill and to make the victims wish they were dead. It is rape as an instrument of forced exile, rape to make you leave your home and never want to go back. It is rape to be seen and heard and watched and told to others: rape as spectacle. It is rape to drive a wedge through a community, to shatter a society, to destroy a people. It is rape as genocide 
  • Sajjad, Tazreena (2012). "The Post-Genocidal Period and its Impact on Women". In Samuel Totten. Plight and Fate of Women During and Following Genocide (Reprint ed.). Transaction. pp. 219–248. ISBN 978-1-4128-4759-9. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sher Ali Khan Pataudi
Chief of General Staff
Succeeded by
Malik Sher Bahadur
Preceded by
Muhammad Musa
Chief of Army Staff
Succeeded by
Gul Hassan Khan
Political offices
Preceded by
Ayub Khan
President of Pakistan
Succeeded by
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto
Chief Martial Law Administrator
Preceded by
Mian Arshad Hussain
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Preceded by
Afzal Rahman Khan
Minister of Defence