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|3rd President of Pakistan|
26 March 1969 – 20 December 1971
|Prime Minister||Nurul Amin|
|Preceded by||Ayub Khan|
|Succeeded by||Zulfikar Ali Bhutto|
|Born||Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan
4 February 1917
Chakwal, Punjab, British India
(now in Punjab, Pakistan)
|Died||10 August 1980
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
|Nationality||British Indian (1917-1947) Pakistani (1947-1980)|
|Alma mater||Col. Brown Cambridge School
University of the Punjaby
Indian Military Academy
Command and General Staff College
|Service/branch|| Indian Army
|Years of service||1939–1971|
|Unit||4/10th Baluch Regiment (old spelling of Baloch Regiment) (PA – 98)|
|Commands||105 Independent Brigade (Pakistan Army)
Deputy Chief of General Staff (Pakistan Army)
Chief of General Staff
14th Infantry Division, Dacca
15th Infantry Division, Sialkot,7th Infantry Division, Peshawar
Deputy Commander-in-Chief,Pakistan Army
|Battles/wars||World War II
Indo-Pakistani War of 1965
Indo-Pakistani War of 1971
Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan (Urdu: آغا محمد یحیی خان,4 February 1917 – 10 August 1980), widely known as Yahya Khan was a Pakistani general who served as the 3rd President of Pakistan from 1969 until East Pakistan's secession to Bangladesh in 1971, and Pakistan's defeat in the Indo-Pakistani war of the same year.
Serving with distinction in World War II as a British Indian Army officer, Yahya opted for Pakistan in 1947 and became one of the earliest senior local officers in its army. After helping conduct Operation Grand Slam during the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965, Yahya was made the army's Commander-in-Chief in 1966. Appointed to succeed him by outgoing president Ayub Khan in 1969, Yahya dissolved the government and declared martial law for the second time in Pakistan's history. He held the country's first free and fair elections in 1970, which saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League party in East Pakistan win the majority vote. Pressured by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, whose party had won in West Pakistan but had far less votes, Yahya delayed handing over power to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. As civil unrest erupted all over East Pakistan, Yahya initiated Operation Searchlight to quell the rebellion.
With reports of widespread atrocities by the Pakistan Army against Bengali civilians, and counter-killings of Biharis and suspected Pakistani sympathisers by the Mukti Bahini insurgency, the crisis grew deeper under Yahya. In December 1971, regional tensions escalated into the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971, with neighbouring India intervening on the side of the Bengali fighters. Pakistan was defeated on 16 December 1971, with approximately ninety thousand of its army officers and other ranks in Dhaka turning prisoners of war, and East Pakistan seceding to become Bangladesh. Yahya handed over the presidency to Bhutto and stepped down as army chief in disgrace.
As the new president, Bhutto stripped Yahya of all previous military decorations and placed him under house arrest for most of the 1970s. When Bhutto was overthrown in a military coup in 1977, Yahya was released by provincial administrator General Fazle Haq. He died in 1980.
He is viewed largely negatively by Pakistani historians, and is considered among the least successful of the country's leaders.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Military career
- 3 President of Pakistan
- 4 Last days of East Pakistan
- 5 Death
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
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...
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), 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.
1965 war and Commander-in-chief
After the World War II, he decided to join the Pakistan Army in 1947.In 1947 he was instrumental in not letting the Indian officers shift books from the famous library of the British Indian Army 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 due to extensive bending over for the British and Americans. 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 professional soldier.Later Yahya, as Deputy Chief of General Staff, was selected to head the army’s planning board set up by Ayub 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 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. He was appointed as commander-in-chief of Pakistan Army in March 1966. At promotion, Yahya Khan superseded two of his seniors: Lieutenant-General Altaf Qadir and Lieutenant-General Bakhtiar Rana.
Yahya 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 on 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.
President of Pakistan
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 author 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 judgements”.
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.
- He dissolved the one unit restoring the pre-1955 provinces of West Pakistan
- Promised free direct, one man one vote, fair elections on adult franchise, a basic human right which had been denied to the Pakistani people since the pre-independence 1946 elections by political inefficiency, double play and intrigue, by civilian governments, from 1947 to 1958 and by Ayub’s one man rule from 1958 to 1969.
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
|Lieutenant-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|
National Security Council and LFO
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.
Last days of East Pakistan
1970 general elections
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 
Genocide in East-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. 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.
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. 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 apologised for his mistakes and voluntarily stepped down.
||This section's representation of one or more viewpoints about a controversial issue may be unbalanced or inaccurate. (January 2014)|
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." 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 the globalized 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. 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.
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. 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.
Fall from power
When the news of surrender of East 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 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 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 round 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.
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- Yahya Khan considered major villain within the country - Story of Pakistan
- editor, Alexander Mikaberidze, (2011). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World a Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIOm 2011. ISBN 1598843370.
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Yahya Khan was a Pathan - Like Ayub and most of the generals.
- Wolper, Stanley (2010). India and Pakistan: Continued Conflict or Cooperation?. University of California Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-0520948006.
(...) handing it down to General Aga Mohammad Yahya Khan, a much smaller Pathan, and a heavier drinker.
- Burki, Shahid Javed (2015). Historical Dictionary of Pakistan (4 ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. p. 596. ISBN 978-1442241480.
Ayub Khan and Agha Yahya Khan were Pathans, and the Pathans had a strong presence in the armed forces.
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Ayub Khan Mohammad, a Pathan and Pakistani soldier (...)
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A burly, double chinned, bushy-browed slothful Yahya Khan was, like Ayub Khan, an ethnic Pashtun.
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- Sharlach, Lisa (2000). "Rape as Genocide: Bangladesh, the Former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda". New Political Science. 1 (22): 89. doi:10.1080/713687893.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yahya Khan.|
- Official profile at Pakistan Army website
- Good Soldier Yahya Khan----TIME
- YAHYA KHAN AND BANGLADESH
- Chronicles Of Pakistan
- Henry Kissinger and PM China discussed Yahya Khan and 1971 loss
- Yahya Khan Is Arrested In Pakistan----Washington Post
- ----Spiegel Online
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