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Ayub Khan: The 1958 Coup

Ayub Khan

After the creation of Pakistan, its military forces were for a few years still commanded by the British officer who commanded those troops when they were part of the army of the British India. The transfer of command to a Pakistani officer was a matter of a great deal of political importance and substantial political danger. It was recognized that the commander of the army could easily assume political control. The political leaders looked over the top military officers and saw too much danger of such a usurpation of power. They instead chose a younger, lower level officer, Ayub Khan. Ayub Khan came from a relative minor Pashtun tribe and thus could not command the allegiance of a powerful domestic faction the way a Punjabi might. Being a non-Punjabi Ayub Khan might be distrusted by the Punjabi majority of the armed forces. Having been selected over more senior officers, there was reason to expect those officers to be resentful of Ayub Khan. Ayub Khan also had a reputation for being an efficient administrator. So the political leaders of Pakistan had good reason in 1951 to believe that they were turning the army over to an efficient military bureaucrat rather than to a Bonaparte. They thought that without an ethnic power base he would not dare to seek political power and that if he should even try, his military rivals would hold him in check. They were quite wrong.

From 1951 to 1958 Ayub Khan continually increased the power and political prerogatives of the military. In 1954 Ayub Khan was the minister of defense in the government as well as commander of the army. Finally in 1958 he carried out a bloodless coup d'etat and ruled Pakistan for the next decade. His justification for his coup was that the politicians were inefficient and corrupt.

On his own, Ayub Khan initiated major policy programs and shaped the direction of Pakistan politics permanently. The most important of these policy program was the development of alliances with the powerful neighboring countries of Pakistan and India; i.e., China and the Soviet Union. He also developed a political alliance with the United States. These alliances were primarily to offset the imbalance between the power of India with respect to Pakistan.

Another major change for Pakistan, initiated by Ayub Khan, was the creation of a new capital. At independence Pakistan's capital was situated in Karachi. In 1959 Ayub Khan decided to build a new capital that could be better defended from possible attack by India. He chose a site near the Margalla Hills and near Pakistan's third largest city, Rawalpindi. The new capital was to be named Islamabad (home of Islam). By 1963 the transfer of the capital from Karachi to Islamabad was complete.

Within Pakistan, Ayub Khan imposed martial law to suppress what he considered the evils of black marketeering and hoarding. He also carried out a campaign against the corruption of politicians and bureaucrats. One of the punishments he imposed upon politicians was a prohibition against anyone convicted of corruption from participating in politics for fifteen years. This was a very effective means of destroying his political opposition. Ayub Khan also amended the laws concerning newspapers, thus giving himself the power to suppress or close down newspapers that opposed him or his policies.

Ayub Khan carried out a program of confiscation of land from the landed aristocracy and selling it. This had the effect of creating a class of land owners with medium sized holdings and reduced the power of the large land holders who opposed him. The peasants on the other hand participated very little in this land redistribution scheme.

Ayub Khan did carry out some programs of changes in social and political institutions which were beneficial to the lower classes. He created political representation at the local level in regional councils for groups of villages having a combined population of about ten thousand. He supported revisions in the more archaic elements of marriage and family law. He tried to rebalance the distribution of political power between the east and west wings of Pakistan by designating Dhaka in East Pakistan as the site of the legislature while the administrative capital remained at Islamabad in West Pakistan. He negotiated a resolution with India of the problems concerning the division of the waters of the Indus River Valley system. The negotiations culminated in the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. These measures were enough to give Ayub Khan the reputation as being a statesman as well as a dictator.

By 1962 Ayub Khan was ready to lift martial law and allow the election of government officials under a new constitution. He formed a political party based upon the old Muslim League which was named the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). Opposition parties formed and showed some effectiveness in political organization. Ayub Khan and the PML won the election of 1962 but the result showed that his political opposition despite years of suppession and persecution was not dead.

As an elected leader Ayub Khan was able to strengthen Pakistan's alliance with the United States. This turned out to be important when war broke out with India in 1965 over Kashmir and border disputes elsewhere. The war changed little and a cease-fire was arranged through the United Nations. In 1966 Ayub Khan and the prime minister of India signed a treaty called the Tashkent Declaration. The Pakistan public, not being well informed about the relative imbalance of Pakistani military power with respect to that of India, treated the Tashkent Declaration as Ayub Khan's surrender to India.

Political protests to Ayub Khan's rule brought him on the defensive by 1968. In 1969 it was necessary to declare martial law again. Ayub Khan resigned in 1969 turning the power in Pakistan to the administrator of the martial law, Yahya Khan.

Nine Unknown Men

Nine Unknown Men are a two millennia-old secret society founded by the Indian Emperor Asoka.