Yahya was born to a family that was descended from the elite soldier class of Nāder Shāh, the Persian ruler who conquered Delhi in the 18th century. He served in Italy and the Middle East during World War II and, after the partition of India, organized the Pakistani Staff College in 1947.

After serving in the war with India over Kashmir, he became Pakistan’s youngest brigadier general at 34, its youngest general at 40, and commander in chief in 1966. A protégé of President Ayub Khan Yahya was in command of the military when street riots erupted. Ayub called on him to take over the direction of the government and preserve the integrity of Pakistan. In 1971 a serious conflict erupted between the central government and the Awami Party of East Pakistan, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The East Pakistani leader demanded autonomy for his half of the geographically divided nation, and Yahya Khan responded by ordering the Army to suppress the Awami Party. Unable to do so East Pakistan eventually became the independent state of Bangladesh, and with its loss Yahya Khan resigned.

His term as president was very short and perhaps it was his destiny to go down in the pages of history as the leader who disappointed the nation by losing an integral war.

“I will not tolerate disorder. Let everyone return to his post.”

–President Yahya Khan after being appointed

Chief Administrator of Martial Law, March 1969.