Mohammed Ayub Khan

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Mohammed Ayub Khan

Mohammed Ayub Khan (1907-1974) was a president of Pakistan. Also, as commander in chief of the army and martial-law administrator, he molded the domestic and foreign policy of Pakistan.

Mohammed Ayub Khan was born on May 14, 1907, in the village of Rehanna in what is now Pakistan. His ancestors were Pathans, and his father had served as a rissaldar, or a noncommissioned officer, in a cavalry unit in the Indian army. Ayub attended village schools, then went to the Moslem college at Aligarh in 1922. He seems to have been an indifferent student, but his family background, ability at sports, and general intelligence led to his selection to attend Sandhurst, the officers' training school in England. He was among the first group of Indians to receive this training, and his accent, idiom, dress, and bearing always reflected his British army background.

Ayub was commissioned in 1927. He fought in Burma during World War II as second in command of his regiment. When India was partitioned in August 1947, he, like most Moslem army officers, chose to serve Pakistan. He received rapid promotion, becoming the first Pakistani army commander in chief in 1951.

Assumption of Power

Ayub's rise to power was a product of the years of economic and political instability that had followed the death of the two great leaders of Pakistan in its formative phase, M. A. Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan.

Ayub tells in his memoirs how, as commander in chief, he watched with growing disgust as corruption spread through every level of the nation and one ineffective government followed another. He and his fellow officers had urged the imposition of strong rule, and on Oct. 7, 1958, he was asked by the president, Iskander Mirza, to take over the government because the civilian officials were losing control. Martial law was decreed, and shortly after taking over as chief administrator, Ayub forced Mirza to leave the country.

Although Ayub controlled the newspapers, dissolved political parties, and imprisoned those politicians he felt were disrupting the country, he did not make Pakistan into a police state. The civil service and the judiciary had a large measure of independence. Martial law had been imposed, Ayub insisted, only for "clearing up the political, social, economic mess" created by the corrupt politicians. Especially in the early years of his rule he was widely popular, and his policies brought rapid growth in agriculture and other sectors of the economy. The measure which he regarded as his greatest achievement was the creation of a new constitution. The first step had been the creation of basic democracies in 1960, giving the people the right to elect 80,000 village-level representatives, who elected Ayub president. Then in 1962 he promulgated a new constitution, under which free elections were held in 1965. Ayub ran into very strong opposition from Fatima Jinnah, who, as the sister of M.A. Jinnah, was one of the most revered figures in the nation. Ayub won with 63 percent of the votes, but the support Fatima Jinnah had received indicated the growing hostility to his regime.

Some of this hostility was related to Ayub's handling of foreign affairs, particularly relations with India. The interests of the Soviet Union, China, and the United States in the area further complicated his problems. Pakistan had entered into such American-sponsored organizations as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and had received large-scale American aid. But Ayub grew disenchanted with the United States when it gave large amounts of military equipment to India during India's war with China in 1962. Pakistan's relations with India worsened, ending in the brief war in 1965, at which time the United States withdrew much of its military aid from Pakistan. Ayub then turned, with very considerable success, to building up friendly relations with Communist China and the Soviet Union. But the fact that Ayub had made peace with India rankled many Pakistanis, who believed that he should have been more aggressive.

Decline of Leadership

At the same time, charges of corruption were made against his government and his family with increasing frequency. It was alleged, apparently with considerable justification, that his sons had made vast fortunes through illegal use of their influence. Discontent was particularly strong in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), where the people felt that they had been neglected by the officials in West Pakistan.

When Ayub became ill early in 1968, rumors spread that he had a heart attack and was paralyzed. The uncertainty about the country's future was increased when, after his recovery, an attempt was made to assassinate him in November in Peshawar. Violence became widespread in the main towns and cities, and Ayub was openly denounced. To appease his critics, Ayub announced in February 1969 that he would resign in March 1970, permitting a new president to be elected. This concession did not lessen the hostility, however, and law and order began to break down.

Ayub's Retirement

The danger to the country was increased by demands from East Pakistan leaders for virtual autonomy. Ayub considered declaring martial law once more, but the army leaders refused to give him their support, believing that he had become a liability to them. Realizing that he was without support, Ayub resigned on March 25, 1969, stating that as he had lost control of the situation, he could not preside over the destruction of his country. In a repetition of the events of 1958, martial law was decreed, and Yahya Khan, the commander in chief of the army, was appointed chief administrator. Ayub retired, apparently taking no further part in politics. Aside from the much-publicized business activities of his sons, Ayub shielded his private life from the public. Following Moslem social custom, only the most casual reference is made to his marriage in his autobiography. Ayub died at his home near Islamabad on April 19, 1974.

Further Reading

Friends, Not Masters: A Political Autobiography (1967) gives Ayub's own version of his career; he emerges as a strong-minded but modest man. Rais Ahmad Jafri, ed., Ayub, Soldier and Statesman (1966), is a collection of Ayub's speeches. For the general background of the period see Khalid bin Sayeed, Pakistan: The Formative Phase, 1857-1948 (1960; 2d ed. 1968).

Newsweek (February 10, 1969; March 3, 1969; April 7, 1969). □