Upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Yahya Khan co-founded the Pakistan Staff College at Quetta. He also helped to bring Muhammad Ayub Khan to power. During the Second Pakistan-India War in 1965, Yahya Khan commanded an infantry division. The following year he was appointed commander in chief of the Pakistani Army.
On 25 March 1969, civil unrest prompted Muhammad Ayub Khan, the president of Pakistan, to declare martial law. He promptly resigned after naming Yahya Khan chief martial law administrator and president. Yahya Khan moved swiftly to abolish the 1962 constitution and dissolve the National Assembly. He served as president for the next two years.
On 29 March 1970 Yahya Khan promulgated the Legal Framework Order of 1970, which functioned as an interim constitution and under which an election could be held. Then in December 1970 Yahya Khan oversaw the first free elections in Pakistani history. The Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur-Rahman captured 160 out of 165 seats in East Pakistan but no seats in West Pakistan. Instead of brokering a compromise between Rahman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, majority leader of the West Pakistani Assembly, Yahya Khan used military force to repress the opposition in East Pakistan, and a civil war ensued. The Third Pakistan-India War (3–17 December 1971) began when India interceded. West Pakistan was defeated, and East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh in 1971.
Yahya Khan resigned the presidency on 20 December 1971 and was replaced by the Pakistani foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1972 Bhutto placed Yahya Khan under house arrest. Yahya Khan died on 10 August 1980 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, after suffering a stroke.
Andrew J. Waskey
Berindranath, Dewan. The Private Life of Yahya Khan. New Delhi: Sterling, 1974.