Complete Biography of Ayub Khan

(Last Updated On: November 20, 2017)

Muhammad Ayub Khan (Urdu: محمد ایوب خان‎‎; 14 May 1907 – 19 April 1974), widely known as Ayub Khan, HPk, NPk, HJ, MBE, was a Pakistani politician and army general who served as the second President of Pakistan from 1958 until being forced into resignation amid a popular uprising in East-Pakistan in 1969. He is noted for being the first and only self-appointed Field Marshal as well as the first martial law ruler who forcibly assumed the presidency following the exile of President Iskander Mirza when the latter imposed martial law against the Feroz Khan Noon government in 1958.

Trained at British Sandhurst Military College, Ayub Khan fought in World War II as a Colonel in the British Indian Army. He opted for Pakistan and joined the military upon establishment as an aftermath of partition of British India in 1947. He served as chief of staff of Pakistan Eastern Command in East-Bengal and elevated as first native commander-in-chief of Pakistan Army in 1951 by then-Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in a controversial promotion over several senior officers. From 1953–58, he served in the civilian government as Defence and Home Minister and supported Iskander Mirza’s decision to impose martial law against Prime Minister Feroze Khan’s government in 1958 . Two weeks later, he took over the presidency from Mirza after the meltdown of civil-military relations between the military and the civilian President.

After appointing General Musa Khan as an army chief in 1958, the policy inclination towards the alliance with the United States was pursued that saw the allowance of American access to facilities inside Pakistan, most notably the airbase outside of Peshawar, from which spy missions over the Soviet Union were launched. Relations with neighboring China were strengthened but deteriorated with Soviet Union in 1962, and with India in 1965. His presidency saw the war with India in 1965 which ended with Soviet Union facilitating the agreement between two nations. At home front, the policy of privatisation and industrialization was introduced that made the country’s economy as Asia’s fastest-growing economies. During his tenure, several infrastructure programs were built that consisted the completion of hydroelectric stations, dams and reservoirs, as well as prioritizing the space program but reducing the nuclear deterrence.

In 1965, Ayub Khan entered in a presidential race as PML candidate to counter the popular and famed non-partisan Fatima Jinnah and controversially reelected for the second term. He was faced with allegations of widespread intentional vote riggings, authorized political murders in Karachi, and the politics over the unpopular peace treaty with India which many Pakistanis considered an embarrassing compromise. In 1967, he was widely disapproved when the demonstrations across the country were led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto over the price hikes of food consumer products and, dramatically fell amid the popular uprising in East led by Mujibur Rahman in 1969. Forced to resign to avoid further protests while inviting army chief Yahya Khan to impose martial law for the second time, he fought a brief illness and died in 1974.

His legacy remains mixed; he is credited with an ostensible economic prosperity and what supporters dub the “decade of development”, but is criticized for beginning the first of the intelligence agencies’ incursions into the national politics, for concentrating corrupt wealth in a few hands, and segregated policies that later led to the breaking-up of nation’s unity that resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.

Early years and personal life

Ayub Khan was born on 14 May 1907 in Rehana, a village in Haripur District in Hazara region of then North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan). He hailed from the Tareen[12][13][14][15] tribe of ethnic Pashtuns settled in Hazara region.

He was the first child of the second wife of Mir Dad, a Risaldar-Major (a regimental JCO which was then known as VCO) in the 9th Hodson’s Horse which was a cavalry regiment of the British Indian Army.[citation needed] For his basic education, he was enrolled in a school in Sarai Saleh, which was about 4 miles from his village. He used to go to school on a mule’s back and was shifted to a school in Haripur, where he started living with his grandmother.

He went on to study at college and :146 while pursuing his college education, he was accepted into the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst by the recommendation of General Andrew Skeen; he did not complete his degree and departed for Great Britain.:147 Ayub Khan was fluent in Urdu, English and his regional Hindko dialect as well as Pashto.

Military career

Brig. Ayub Khan meeting with Governor-General Jinnah, ca. 1947.
According to some accounts, Ayub Khan’s performance at the Sandhurst Military Academy in the United Kingdom was good, earning him awards and scholarships.:124–125 He was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. on 2 February 1928 in the 1/14th Punjab Regiment (1st Battalion of the 14th Punjab Regiment) of the British Indian Army — it is now known as the 5th battalion of the Punjab Regiment of Pakistan Army.:125 Amongst those who passed out with him was the future chief of army staff of the Indian Army, General J. N. Chaudhri who served as chief when Ayub was the President of Pakistan. After the standard probationary period of service in the British Army, he was appointed to the British Indian Army on 10 April 1929, joining the 1/14th Punjab Regiment Sherdils, now known as 5th Punjab Regiment.

Ayub khan wih Quaid-e-Azam

He was promoted to Lieutenant on 2 May 1930 and to Captain on 2 February 1937. During World War II, he was promoted to the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in 1942 and was posted in Burma to participate in first phase of Burma Front in 1942–43.:87–88 He was promoted to the permanent rank of Major on 2 February 1945. Later that year, he was promoted to temporary Colonel and assumed the command of his own regiment in which he was commissioned to direct operations on second phase of Burma Front; however he was soon suspended without pay from that command temporarily for visible cowardice under fire.

In 1946, he was posted back to the British India and was stationed in the North-West Frontier Province. In 1947, he was promoted to a one-star rank, Brigadier, and commanded a Brigade in mountainous South Waziristan.:87 When the United Kingdom announced the partition British India into India and Pakistan, he was one of the most senior serving officers in the British Indian Army who decided to opt for Pakistan in 1947. At the time of his joining, the Indian Army sent the military seniority list to Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) where he was the 10th ranking officer in terms of seniority with Service No. PA-010.

In the early part of 1948, he was given the commanded of the 14th Infantry Division as its GOC, (still ranked Brigadier) stationed in Dacca, East-Pakistan.:94 In 1949, he was appointed as army commander of Eastern Command and decorated with the Hilal-i-Jurat (HJ) by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan for non-combatant service and called back to Army GHQ as an adjutant-general on November of same year.


General Ayub Khan arriving to take command of the Pakistan Army in 1951.
Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan approved the relief papers of Lieutenant General Sir Douglas Gracey on 16 January 1951 after his term was completed. The Pakistan government already called for appointing native commanders-in-chief of army, air force, navy and dismissed deputation appointments from the British military.:82:30 The Army GHQ sent the nomination papers to Prime Minister’s Secretariat for the appointment of commander-in-chief. There were four-senior officers in the race: Major-General Muhammed Akbar Khan, Major-General Iftikhar Khan, Major-General Ishfakul Majid, and Major-General N.A.M. Raza, among these officers Akbar was the senior-most as he was commissioned in 1920.

Initially, it was Iftikhar Khan (commissioned in 1929) who was selected to be appointed as first native commander-in-chief of the army, but he died in an airplane crash en route to take command after finishing the senior staff officers’ course in the United Kingdom. All three remaining generals were bypassed including the recommended senior-most Major-General Akbar Khan and Major-General Ishfakul Majid (commissioned in 1924).

The Defence Secretary Iskandar Mirza, at that time, played a crucial role in lobbying for the army post selection as presenting with convincing arguments to Prime Minister Ali Khan to promote the junior-most Major-General Ayub Khan (commissioned in 1928, service number: PA-010) to the post despite the fact that his name was not included in the nomination list. Ayub’s papers of promotion were controversially approved and he was appointed as the first native Commander in Chief of Pakistan Army with a promotion to four-star rank, a full general, on 17 January 1951 by Prime Minister Ali Khan.

Ayub’s becoming the army chief marked a change in the military tradition of preferring native Pakistanis; it ended the transitional role of British military officers. Although the Pakistani government announced the appointment of navy’s native commander in chief in 1951, it was Ayub Khan who helped Vice-Admiral M.S. Choudhri to be appointed as first native navy’s commander in chief, also in 1953. The events surrounding Ayub’s appointment set the precedent for a native general being promoted out of turn, ostensibly because he was the least ambitious of the generals in the line of promotion and the most loyal to civil government at that time. Ayub, alongside Admiral Choudhri, cancelled and disbanded the British military tradition in the navy and the army when the U.S. military’s advisers were dispatched to the Pakistani military in 1955–57. British military traditions were only kept in the air force due to a British commander and major staff consisting of Royal Air Force officers.

In 1953, Ayub went on his first foreign visit Turkey as an army c-in-c, and was said to be impressed with Turkish military tradition; he met only with Turkish Defence minister during his visit. Thereafter, he went to the United States and visited the US State Department and Pentagon to lobby for forging military relations. He termed this visit as “medical visit” but made a strong plea for military aid which was not considered due to India’s opposition.

Three months before the end of his tenure as commander-in-chief of the army, Ayub Khan deposed his mentor, Iskandar Mirza, Pakistan’s president, in a military coup – after Mirza had declared martial law and made Ayub Khan the chief martial law administrator.

Cabinet and Defence Minister

Further information: One Unit and Interservice rivalry
In 1954, Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Bogra’s relations with the military and Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad deteriorated on issues of the economy. Pressure had been built up to reconstruct the Cabinet which eventually witnessed with Lieutenant-General Ayub Khan becoming the Defence Minister and Iskander Mirza as Home Minister in 1954.

On 24 February 1954, he signed the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and, together with Mirza, their role in the national politics began to grow. In 1954, the work on controversial program, the One Unit, began which would integrate the four provinces into one united political entity, known as West-Pakistan, as a counterbalance to East-Pakistan. Despite opposition from the ethnic parties and public in general, the program was launched by Prime Minister Bogra. In 1955, Prime Minister Bogra was dismissed by Governor-General Muhammad and he was succeeded by the new Prime Minister Muhammad Ali as the Defence Minister.

As an after of general elections in 1954 in East, the Awami League formed the government in East while the West was governed by the PML, but the PML government collapse soon after in West in 1956.[ He was called on to join the Cabinet as Defence Minister by Prime Minister H.S. Suhrawardy and maintained closer relations with Iskander Mirza who now had become the first President of the country after the successful promulgation of Constitution in 1956. In 1957, President Mirza renewed his extension to serve as an army chief of staff.

Around this time, the MoD led by General Ayub Khan began to see the serious interservice rivalry between the Army GHQ staff and the Navy NHQ staff. Commander in Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral M. S. Choudri and his NHQ staff had been fighting with the Finance ministry and the MoD over the issues of rearmament and contingency plans. Meanwhile, he continued to serve with Prime Minister Chundrigar and Feroz Noon’s government as Defence Minister, and his resentment towards civilian politicians grew.

In 1958, he chaired the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting where he became involved with heated discussion with Admiral M. S. Choudri. He reportedly complained against Admiral Choudri to President Mirza and criticized the Admiral Choudri of “neither having the brain, imagination or depth of thought to understand such (defence) problems nor the vision or the ability to make any contribution.” The impasse was broke with Admiral Choudhri resigning from the Navy in protest as result of having differences with Navy’s plans of expansion and modernization. In 1958, Vice-Admiral Afzal Rahman Khan, who was known to be confident of General Ayub Khan, was appointed as naval chief by President Mirza.

President of Pakistan (1960–1969)

In a threat of being dismissed, Prime Minister H.S. Suhrawardy resigned and Prime Minister I.I. Chundiragar took over the post but in mere two months he too tendered resignation after losing confidence in running the government. The Constituent Assembly elected Sir Feroz Noon for the post of the Prime Minister who had much larger support from the Western Republican Party and Eastern Awami League, and Krishak Sramik.

This new alliance nearly threatened President Iskander Mirza because Suhrawardy and Feroz were now initially campaigning to become Prime Minister and President in the next general elections to be held. The conservative Pakistan Muslim League, led under its President A.Q. Khan, was also gaining momentum in West Pakistan and threatened for the Dharna movement. These events were against President Mirza hence he was willing to dissolve even Pakistan’s One Unit for his advantage.

On the midnight of 7 and 8 October 1958, President Mirza ordered a mass mobilization of Pakistan Armed Forces and abrogated the Constitution after sending a letter to Prime Minister Feroze and the Constituent Assembly about the coup d’état. Most of the politicians became only aware of coup the next morning; only the U.S. Ambassador James Langley was kept aware of the political development in the country. President Mirza appointed General Ayub as its chief martial law administrator (CMLA) to enforce the martial law in both exclave–West and East Pakistan. However, President Mirza soon realized his mistake by making Ayub as the CMLA and repented his actions in news media about the delicate position he had gotten himself into.He regretted his decision and said: “I did not mean to do it,” while offering assurances that the martial law would be for the shortest possible duration. In an attempt to consolidate the powers in his own control, Mirza unsuccessfully tried to appoint Ayub as Prime Minister the following and asked him to appoint the technocratic Cabinet. Such actions were not implemented due to Ayub Khan’s protest against this attempt and briefly complained about Mirza’s “high hand” methods. President Mirza made a bold move by undercutting Ayub’s rival in the army, navy and air force by co-opting military officers in his favors. Informed of President Mirza’s chicanery, Ayub dispatched the military unit to enter in presidential palace on the midnight of 26–27 October 1958 and placed him in a place to exile in to England. Subsequently, Admiral A. R. Khan and four army and air force generals: Azam, Amir, Wajid, and Asghar Khan were instrumental in Ayub Khan’s rise to power.

Ouster of President Mirza was welcomed at public circles, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, the air force chief backed the actions for the martial law enforcement. He relieved the army command and appointed General Muhammad Musa as the new army chief while he promoted himself to the five-star rank, Field Marshal– a rank that many of his critics said that he never deserved.

In 1960, a referendum, that functioned as Electoral College, was held that asked the general public:”Do you have confidence in Muhammad Ayub Khan?”. The voter turnout was recorded at 95.6% and such confirmation was used as impetus to formalise the new system– a presidential system. Ayub Khan was elected president for next five years and decided to pay his first state visit to United States with his wife and daughter Begum Naseem Aurangzeb in July 1961. Highlights of his visit included a state dinner at Mount Vernon, a visit to the Islamic Center of Washington, and a ticker tape parade in New York City.


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