Yahya Khan
یحییٰ خان
Official military portrait, c. 1966
3rd President of Pakistan
Chief Martial Law Administrator
In office
25 March 1969 – 20 December 1971
Prime MinisterNurul Amin
Preceded byMuhammad Ayub Khan
Succeeded byZulfikar Ali Bhutto
5th Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army
In office
18 September 1966 – 20 December 1971
PresidentMuhammad Ayub Khan
Prime MinisterNurul Amin
Preceded byMuhammad Musa
Succeeded byGul Hassan
Personal details
Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan

(1917-02-04)4 February 1917
Chakwal, Punjab, British India
Died10 August 1980(1980-08-10) (aged 63)
Rawalpindi, Punjab, Pakistan
Resting placePeshawar, Pakistan
NationalityBritish Indian (1917–1947)
Pakistani (1947–1980)
Political partyNone (martial law)
EducationColonel Brown Cambridge School, Dehradun
Alma mater
Military service
AllegianceBritish Raj British India (1939-47)
Pakistan Pakistan (1947-71)
Branch/serviceBritish Raj British Indian Army
Pakistan Pakistan Army
Years of service1939–1971
Rank General
Unit4th Battalion/10th Baluch Regiment Now 11th Baloch Regiment (S/No. PA–98)



Order of Pahlavi

Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan[a] (4 February 1917 – 10 August 1980) was a Pakistani military officer, who served as the third president of Pakistan from 1969 to 1971. He also served as the Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army from 1966 to 1971. Along with Tikka Khan, he was considered the chief architect of the 1971 Bangladesh genocide.[1][2]

Khan was commissioned to the British Indian Army in 1939. He fought in the Second World War in the Mediterranean theatre and was promoted to major (acting lieutenant-colonel). Following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, he advanced in the Pakistan Army. During the Second India–Pakistan War of 1965, Khan helped in executing the covert infiltration in Indian-administered Kashmir. After being controversially appointed to assume the army command in 1966, Khan succeeded to the presidency from Ayub Khan, who resigned in March 1969.

Yahya Khan's presidency oversaw martial law by suspending the constitution in 1969. Holding the country's first general election in 1970, he blocked the power transition to the victorious Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from East Pakistan. In March 1971, Khan ordered Operation Searchlight in an effort to suppress Bengali nationalism. This led to the Bangladesh Liberation War in March 1971. Yahya Khan was central to the perpetration of Bangladesh genocide, in which around 300,000–3,000,000 Bengalis were killed, and between 200,000 to 400,000 women were raped.[3][4] In December 1971, Pakistan carried out pre-emptive strikes against the Bengali-allied Indian Army, culminating in the start of the Third India–Pakistan War. The wars resulted in the surrender of the Pakistani armed forces in East Pakistan, and East Pakistan seceded as Bangladesh. After the surrender, Khan resigned from the military command and transferred the presidency to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Khan remained under house surveillance prior to 1979 when he was released by Fazle Haq. Khan died the following year in Rawalpindi and was buried in Peshawar.

Khan's short regime was regarded as the leading cause of the breakup of Pakistan. He is viewed negatively in both Bangladesh, being considered the chief-architect of the genocide, and in Pakistan.

Early life and education

Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan was born in Chakwal, Punjab, British India,[5] in a Qizilbash family on 4 February 1917, according to the references written by Russian sources.[6][7] His family descended from the elite soldier class of Iranian conqueror Nader Shah.[8] He and his family were of Pashtun origin.[9][10][11][12][13][14]

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[15]

According to Indian journalist Dewan Barindranath's book Private Life of Yahya Khan (published in 1974), Yahya's father, Saadat Ali Khan, worked in the Indian Imperial Police, in the Punjab province. He joined as a head constable and retired as a deputy superintendent. He was posted in Chakwal, Punjab, British India, when Yahya Khan was born. He was rewarded with the title of Khan Sahib for having removed the bodies of many freedom fighters, including Bhaghat Singh, as they were executed in secrecy and the British needed to get rid of the corpses without attracting much attention, operations Saadat Ali Khan carried out "efficiently and faithfully."[16]

Yahya's father was originally from Peshawar.[17]

Yahya studied in the prestigious Colonel Brown Cambridge School in Dehradun and later enrolled at the University of the Punjab in Lahore, from where he graduated with a B.A. degree, finishing first in his class.[8][16]

Military service

Career before Pakistan's separation

Yahya Khan was commissioned into the British Indian Army from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun on 15 July 1939, his date of commission was later antedated to 28 August 1938.[8][5] An infantry officer from the 4th/10th Baluch Regiment (4th Battalion of 10th Baluch Regiment, later amalgamated with the modern and current form of Baloch Regiment, 'Baloch' was spelled as 'Baluch' in Yahya's time), 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.[5]

Yahya Khan served in World War II as a lieutenant and later captain in the 4th Infantry Division (India). He served in Iraq, Italy and North Africa. He was a POW in Italy before returning to India.[8]

After the birth of Pakistan

Lt. Col. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan presents the crest of the Baloch Regiment to the Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan watches, March 1950

After the partition of India, he decided to join the Pakistan Army in 1947, he had already reached to the rank of major (acting lieutenant-colonel). In this year he was instrumental in not letting the Indian officers shift books from the famous library of the Pakistan Army Staff College (now Command and Staff College) at Quetta,[8] where Yahya was posted as an instructor at the time of the partition of India. He renamed the 'Command and Staff College' from 'Army Staff College'.[5] At the age of 34, he was promoted to Brigadier, then the youngest Brigadier of Pakistan.[8] And then he was appointed as commander of the 105th Independent Brigade that was deployed in LoC ceasefire region in Jammu and Kashmir in 1951–1952.[18]

Later Yahya Khan, as Vice Chief of General Staff, was selected to head of the army's planning board set up by Ayub Khan 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 two infantry divisions from 1962 to 1965. He played a pivotal role in sustaining the support for President Ayub Khan's campaign in the 1965 presidential elections against Fatima Jinnah.[6] He was made GOC of the 7th Infantry Division of the Pakistan Army, which he commanded during the 1965 war with India and in the same war he also commanded the 12th Infantry Division.

During these years, Yahya was also tasked in civil and administrative matters, including being the Administrator of the Islamabad Capital Project, "the job for major execution" being given to him.[19]

The C-in-C

After the '65 war, Maj. Gen. Yahya Khan was appointed in the GHQ, Pakistan as the chief of staff of the army (at that time this appointment was the deputy to the commander-in-chief of the army) and was promoted to lieutenant general. Soon he was appointed as the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army in March 1966[20] and took command on the 18th day of September when President Ayub promoted him to full General. At the age of 40, he was the youngest General of Pakistan at the time.[8] At promotion, Yahya Khan superseded two of his seniors: Lieutenant-General Altaf Qadir and Lieutenant-General Bakhtiar Rana.[8][21]

After becoming the commander-in-chief of the army, Yahya energetically started reorganizing the Pakistan Army in 1966.[8] The post-1965 situation saw major organizational and technical changes in the Pakistan Army. Until 1965, it was thought that army 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 the 1965 war, the Pakistan Army had only one corps headquarters (the 1 Corps).[21]

Soon after the war had started, the United States had imposed an embargo on military aid to 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".[22]

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: the 2 Corps Headquarters (Jhelum-Ravi Corridor) and the 4 Corps Headquarters (Ravi-Sutlej Corridor) were raised, also in East Pakistan a corps-sized formation (which was titled as the Eastern Command) was created.

Presidency (1969–1971)

A sustained anti-regime mass movement began in the fall of 1968 in West Pakistan. The uprising spread to East Pakistan and gathered strength, adding to a tense political climate that had worsened following President Ayub Khan's implementation of the 1966 Tashkent Agreement and sacking of Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.[23] Ayub Khan tried to quell the revolt by making concessions to opposition groups including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Awami League (AL), but demonstrations continued.[24]

Rather than resigning and allowing a constitutional transfer of power, Ayub Khan requested that Yahya Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, utilize the military's supra-constitutional authority to declare martial law and take power.[25] On 24 March 1969, Ayub directed a letter to Yahya inviting him to deal with the crisis, as it was "beyond the capacity of [civil] government to deal with the... complex situation."[26] Some sources claim Yahya accepted Ayub's proposal on 25 March.[27][28] On 26 March 1969, General Yahya appeared on national television and announced a state of martial law throughout the entirety of the country. The 1962 constitution was abrogated, the parliament was dissolved, and Ayub's civilian officials were dismissed.[26] In his first nationwide address, Yahya maintained, "I will not tolerate disorder. Let everyone remain at his post."[8][29]

Yahya Khan's new military government featured several active duty military officials:

Yahya Khan administration
Ministers Portrait Ministries and departments Inter-services
General Yahya Khan[30] President and Chief Martial Law Administrator
Information and Broadcasting
Law and Justice
Foreign and Defence
 Pakistan Army
General Abdul Hamid Khan[30] Deputy CMLA
Interior and Kashmir Affairs
 Pakistan Army
Vice-Admiral Syed Mohammad Ahsan[30] Deputy CMLA
Finance and Planning Commission
Statistics, Commerce, and Industry
Pakistan Navy
Air-Marshal Nur Khan[30] Deputy CMLA
Communications and Health
Labour and Science and Technology
 Pakistan Air Force

When Yahya Khan assumed the office on 25 March, he inherited a two-decade constitutional problem of inter-provincial ethnic rivalry between West Pakistan, which was almost exclusively Muslim and was dominated by the Punjabi-Pashtun-Mohajir peoples, and East Pakistan, whose population was largely ethnically Bengali and approximately one-fourth Muslim.[citation needed] In addition, Yahya also inherited the challenge of transforming a country essentially ruled by one man into a democratic country, which was the ideological basis of the anti-Ayub movement of 1968–69. Once in office, Yahya Khan was tasked with leading the country, drafting of a provisional constitution, resolving the One Unit question, and satisfying the frustrations and the sense of exploitation stirring in the "East Wing" (East Pakistan) by government policies since 1948.[8][18]

The American political scientist Lawrence Ziring observed:

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 the 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 reasoned settlement. Nurtured on conspiracy theories, they were all conditioned to act in a manner that neglected agreeable solutions and promoted violent judgments.[31]

Yahya Khan attempted to solve Pakistan's constitutional and inter-provincial rivalry problems once he took over power from Ayub Khan in March 1969. His earlier initiatives were directed at establishing the National Security Council (NSC), with Major-General Ghulam Omar as its first advisor.[32][33] It was formed to analyse and prepare assessments towards issues of political and national security.[32]

In 1969, President Yahya also promulgated the Legal Framework Order, 1970, which disestablished the One Unit Scheme that had formed West Pakistan and returned the provinces of West Pakistan to their pre-1955 configuration.[34] The decree had no effect on East Pakistan.[34][18] However, the dissolution of the One Unit policy did not lead to the positive results that it might have yielded if withdrawn earlier.[18] Yahya also made an attempt to accommodate the East Pakistanis by abolishing the principle of parity, in the hope that a 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 vocalness for separatism, causing a further rise in anti-West Wing sentiment in the East Wing.[citation needed]

1970 general election

Gen. Yahya Khan and Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan visiting East Pakistan on 20 November 1970 for the Bhola cyclone

By 28 July 1969, President Yahya Khan had set a framework for elections that were to be held in December 1970,[18][33] with Judge Abdus Sattar appointed as Chief Election Commissioner of the Election Commission of Pakistan.[23] In December, the general elections were held all over the country. In East Pakistan, the Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, held almost all seats but no seat in any of four provinces of West Pakistan. The socialist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had won the exclusive mandate in four provinces of West Pakistan but none in East Pakistan. The Pakistan Muslim League (PML), led by Nurul Amin, was the only party to have representation from all over the country, but it failed to gain the mandate to run the government. The Awami League had 160 seats in the National Assembly, all won from East Pakistan; the socialist PPP had 81, and the conservative PML had 10. The general elections's results reflected the ugly political reality: the Pakistani electorate was deeply polarized along regional lines, particularly between East Pakistan and West Pakistan.[33][35]

As a result, Pakistan stood politically divided. A series of bilateral talks between the PPP and Mujibur Rahman produced no results and were unable to come to an agreement regarding any transfer of power from West Pakistan's representatives to East Pakistan's, on the basis of the six-point programme. West Pakistan politicians generally felt that the proposed six-point programme was a step towards East Pakistan's full secession.[33]

Bangladesh War

See also: The Gonohotta

While the political deadlock continued between the Awami League, the PPP, and the military government after the general elections in 1970, Yahya Khan began coordinating with his military strategists concerning ongoing dissent in East Pakistan. Both Yahya Khan and Bhutto flew to Dhaka and tried negotiations one more time in mid-March 1971, but they ultimately yielded no results.[33]

On 25 March 1971,[8][5] Yahya initiated Operation Searchlight, a genocidal crackdown by the Pakistan Armed Forces to suppress Bengali dissent and the Bengali nationalist movement.[33][36] It was seen as the sequel to Operation Blitz, which had been launched in November 1970. The Pakistani government's view was that it had to launch a campaign to neutralise a rebellion in East Pakistan to save the unity of Pakistan.[citation needed]

As a result of Operation Searchlight, agitation turned into full-scale civil war as Bengali members of the Pakistan Armed Forces and the police mutinied, forming the Mukti Bahini along with members of the general public, with the goal of launching unconventional and hit-and-run operations.[37][38] A government-in-exile formed across the border in India and proclaimed the independent state of Bangladesh, appointing Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as its head despite him being in a West Pakistan prison at the time.[33]

Violent disorder and chaos accompanied the Pakistan Army's systematic and deliberate campaign of killing and raping the populace of East Pakistan. The original plan for Operation Searchlight envisioned taking control of the major cities on 26 March 1971 and then eliminating all opposition, political or military[39] within one month. The prolonged Bengali resistance had not been anticipated by Pakistani planners, however.[40] 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.[41] Bangladeshi authorities claim that 3 million people were killed,[42] while the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, an official Pakistani Government investigation, put the figure as low as 26,000 civilian casualties.[43] In her widely discredited book Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War, Sarmila Bose said between 50,000 and 100,000 combatants and civilians were killed by both sides during the war.[38] 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 put forward by Uppsala University and the Peace Research Institute in Oslo.[44]

General Yahya Khan arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on charges of sedition and appointed Brigadier (later General) Rahimuddin Khan to preside over a special tribunal dealing with Mujib's case. Rahimuddin gave Mujib the death sentence,[45] but President Yahya put the verdict into abeyance. Yahya's crackdown, however, had led to the Bangladesh Liberation War within Pakistan. India would eventually be drawn into said war, fighting on behalf of the Bangladeshis against Pakistan; the war would later extend into the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.[35][33][37]

The consequences of the war were mainly that East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh, and that India captured approximately 15,000 square kilometres (5,800 sq mi) of land previously in West Pakistan. However, the captured territory was given back to Pakistan in the Simla Agreement signed on 2 July 1972 between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.[46]

The 1971 war led to increased tensions between Pakistan and India, although Pakistan recognised the independence of Bangladesh following severe pressure from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

US role

Main article: Pakistan–United States relations

President Yahya Khan with United States President Richard Nixon in October 1970

The United States had been a major sponsor of President Yahya's military government. American journalist Gary Bass notes in The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, "Nixon liked very few people, but he did like General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan."[47] Personal initiatives of President Yahya had helped to establish the communication channel between the United States and China, which would be used to set up the Nixon's trip in 1972.[48]

Since 1960, Pakistan was perceived in the United States as an integral bulwark against global Communism in the Cold War. The United States cautiously supported Pakistan during the 1971 conflict, although Congress kept an arms embargo in place.[49] The economically-socialist India entered into a formal alliance with the Soviet Union in August 1971.

Nixon urged President Yahya Khan multiple times to exercise restraint.[50] 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.[51] Similarly, President Yahya feared that an independent Bangladesh could lead to the disintegration of Pakistan, and said publicly in August 1971 that Indian military support for Bengali guerrillas could lead to war between India and Pakistan.[52]

In November 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met Nixon in Washington. She assured him that she didn't want war with Pakistan, but he did not believe her.[53] 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 Nixon that India would follow Pakistan's suit if it withdrew from India's borders. As a result, the main agenda was "dropped altogether."[54]

On 3 December 1971, 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.[55] He favored a cease-fire.[56] The United States was secretly encouraging the shipment of military equipment from Iran, Turkey, and Jordan to Pakistan, offering to replenish those countries' weapons stocks later[57] despite Congressional objections.[35] 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 in Dhaka on 16 December 1971, leading to the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh.[8][33][58]

Fall from power

When the news of Pakistan's surrender was broadcast by West Pakistani media, the spontaneous and overwhelming public anger over the nation's defeat by Bangladeshi rebels and the Indian Army, and over 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 Khan swept the country.[citation needed] Yahya became the highest-ranking official forced out due to 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 the (at that time) powerful and popular People's Party.[8]

Within hours of Yahya Khan stepping down, President Bhutto reversed the Judge Advocate General Branch's verdict against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and instead released him, allowing him to fly to London. President Bhutto also orders for the house arrest of Yahya, the man who imprisoned Mujib in the first place. Both actions made news headlines around the world.[8]

Personal life


He was nominally a Shia Muslim,[59] but was non-practising and was known to have indulged in activities prohibited in Islam such as womanizing and the consumption of alcohol.[60][61] Indian journalist Dewan Berindranath argued that Yahya turned to alcohol and womanizing when he gained power, as a coping mechanism to deal with stress, and that when he was a soldier he was known for being morally upright, abstaining from partying unlike other officers and instead preferring to spend time with his family and also practicing Islamic rituals such as the fast of Ramadan, eventually quoting Ayub Khan who said that "Give me half a dozen officers of the calibre and moral standards of Yahya Khan and I can show you what can Pakistan do as a great nation of the Islamic world."[62]

During his rule from 1969 to 1971, Mian Tufail Mohammad, a prominent leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's main Islamist party, hailed Yahya as "the champion of Islam", as there was a general view among Islamists that he would fight leftist elements of the country (the Pakistan People's Party in West Pakistan and the Awami League in what was East Pakistan and now Bangladesh) and also push for the Islamization of the Constitution.[63] More generally, Yahya used the intelligence services (the ISI and the IB) "to keep secular political parties under check", mobilizing the Information Ministry for propaganda and pushing the idea that they put "Islam and Pakistan in danger."[64]

Towards the end of his life, during and following his imprisonment, Yahya slowly abandoned drinking altogether as he "turned extremely religious."[65]


Yahya is said to have had a relationship with Akleem Akhtar, nicknamed General Rani, but he was never married.[66] His name was linked with the singer and actress Noor Jehan as well.[67] He also had a brief relationship with a Bengali woman called Mrs Shamim K. Hussain, also known as Black Beauty.[68] The wife of a police officer, Yahya appreciated her company not so much for her looks but mainly because she was fluent in English and could talk about Shakespeare and Lord Byron, among his favourite poets, and she eventually became influential enough to shape the decisions of the foreign office.[69]


Yahya had a son named Ali Yahya and a daughter named Yasmin Yahya.[70]

His elder brother Agha Muhammad Ali Khan worked in the police, among other postings being the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Lahore from 1948 to 1951[71] and later retired as Inspector General West Pakistan.

His nephew Ahmed Ali was also in the Pakistan Army, as a captain and then as a major serving as Yahya's aide-de-camp from 1966 to 1969[72] and later was elevated to the rank of major general in the Pakistan Army.


Yahya remained under house arrest until 1979, when he was released from custody by martial law administrator General Fazle Haq. He stayed out from public events and wrote down his memoirs in the form of notes that remain unpublished.[72] He died on 10 August 1980 in Rawalpindi, Punjab and was interred at Circle road graveyard, Peshawar, Pakistan.[8][5]


In Pakistan

Yahya Khan was awarded HPk, HJ, SPk, NePl but then stripped of his service honours by Pakistan.[8][5] Khan is viewed largely negatively by Pakistani historians and is considered among the worst of the country's leaders.[5] His rule is widely regarded as the leading cause of the breakup of Pakistan.[73]

In the United States

In the United States, he has been appreciated for facilitating the American opening to China, President Richard Nixon sending a handwritten letter to him, stating that "without your personal assistance the profound breakthrough in relations between the USA and the [Peoples Republic of China] would never have been accomplished... Those who want a more peaceful world in the generations to come will be forever in your debt."[74]

In popular culture

In the 2023 film Sam Bahadur, Khan is portrayed by Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub.



  1. ^ Urdu: آغا محمد یحیٰی خان


  1. ^ Totten, Samuel; Parsons, William S.; Charny, Israel W. (2004). Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. Psychology Press. pp. 295–303. ISBN 978-0-415-94430-4. The Pakistani government (the Yahya regime) was primarily responsible for the genocide. Not only did it prevent the Awami League and Rahman from forming the federal government, but it opted for a military solution to a constitutional crisis. In doing so, it decided to unleash a brutal military operation in order to terrorize the Bengalis. Yahya's decision to put General Tikka Khan (who had earned the name of "Butcher of Baluchistan" for his earlier brutal suppression of Baluchi nationals in the 1960s) in charge of the military operation in Bangladesh was an overt signal of the regime's intention to launch a genocide.
  2. ^ Mishra, Pankaj (16 September 2013). "Unholy Alliances". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 3 September 2023. The military junta—led by General Yahya Khan, who had assumed power in 1969—was reluctant to accept the election results, and Khan postponed convening Pakistan's National Assembly... On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a full-scale campaign, known as Operation Searchlight. After arresting Mujib and abducting him to West Pakistan and banning his party, it set about massacring his supporters, with American weapons. Firing squads spread out across East Pakistan, sometimes assisted by local collaborators from Islamist groups that had been humiliated in the elections. In the countryside, where the armed resistance was strongest, the Pakistani military burned and strafed villages, killing thousands and turning many more into refugees. Hindus, who composed more than ten per cent of the population, were targeted, their un-Muslimness ascertained by a quick inspection underneath their lungis. Tens of thousands of women were raped in a campaign of terror.
  3. ^ "The Past has yet to Leave the Present: Genocide in Bangladesh". Harvard International Review. 1 February 2023. Retrieved 3 September 2023.
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  12. ^ Jaffrelot, Christophe (2015). The Pakistan Paradox: Instability and Resilience. Oxford University Press. pp. 226–227. ISBN 978-0-19023-518-5. Pashtuns (the community from which hailed the country's first four commanders-in-chief from Ayub Khan to Yahya Khan and Gul Hassan Khan, with the exception of Mohammad Musa)
  13. ^ Hiro, Dilip (2015). The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan. Nation Books. p. 183. ISBN 978-1568585031. A burly, double chinned, bushy-browed slothful Yahya Khan was, like Ayub Khan, an ethnic Pashtun.
  14. ^ Payne, Robert (1973). Massacre: The tragedy at Bangla Desh and the phenomenon of mass slaughter throughout history. Macmillan Publishers. p. 13. ISBN 9780025952409.
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Military offices Preceded bySher Ali Khan Pataudi Chief of General Staff 1957–1962 Succeeded byMalik Sher Bahadur Preceded byMuhammad Musa C-in-C of the Pakistan Army 1966–1971 Succeeded byGul Hassan Khan Political offices Preceded byAyub Khan President of Pakistan 1969–1971 Succeeded byZulfikar Ali Bhutto Chief Martial Law Administrator 1969–1971 Preceded byMian Arshad Hussain Minister of Foreign Affairs 1969–1971 Preceded byAfzal Rahman Khan Minister of Defence 1969–1971