How golden was Ayub Khan’s era?

Published: May 14, 2012

The crime that I will never forgive Ayub for is this: why was East Pakistan forced to pay tariffs on its products coming to West Pakistan but West Pakistani goods had to pay nothing to access East Pakistani markets? PHOTO: FILE

The numbers do not lie: in terms of economic growth, former President Ayub Khan was not the best ruler Pakistan ever had.

Admittedly, he is in second place and beaten only very narrowly by former President Ziaul Haq: Ayub averaged 5.82% growth during his eleven years in office compared to Zia’s 5.88%. Still, the myth of Ayub’s “Decade of Development” persists and so it is worth examining (on what would have been his 105th birthday), what his record was and how he compared to the rest of Pakistan’s rulers.

Perhaps the single biggest reason people remember Ayub’s era fondly is because it was the time when Pakistan first acquired a relatively sizeable manufacturing base. And indeed, manufacturing growth in Pakistan during his time was 8.51%, far outpacing any other time in Pakistani history.

It was the time when Pakistan first got an automobile industry, a cement industry and few other heavy manufacturing industries.

But is that enough to remember it with misty-eyed fondness?

The answer really depends on one’s perspective, but one can conjecture that most economists would say no. The left would rightly castigate Ayub for doing nothing to prevent income inequality, a phenomenon that was eloquently captured in the famous “22 families” speech given Ayub’s own Planning Commission chairman, Dr Mehboodul Haq, in 1969.

The right will also convincingly argue that Ayub used (or abused) state resources to create an oligopolistic structure of the economy that largely persists to this day, creating highly uncompetitive industries that benefit only a few, stifle entrepreneurship and cannot compete without state subsidies and support.

But Ayub’s supporters will come to his defence and make the argument that – though not comforting – is at least compelling: that at least he tried.

At a time when corruption is very visible and rampant, people are willing to forgive mistakes that were made by his government and give him credit for what they perceive to be a sincere effort to do the right thing.

My own personal view: he laid rotten foundations to Pakistan’s economy that achieved growth, but have made us a highly uncompetitive economy dominated by rent-seeking industrial lobbies, all of whom want government subsidies but cry bloody murder when asked to pay taxes.

Indeed, if the economy was really doing so well during Ayub Khan’s era, why was tax collection so low (averaging less than 10% of GDP)?

Why did the government continue to rely on American aid if Pakistani businesses were raking in so much money?

And if Pakistan was trying to emulate Japan, why were we exporting raw cotton instead of trying to develop higher-end export-competitive sectors?

But the crime that I will never forgive Ayub for is this: why was East Pakistan forced to pay tariffs on its products coming to West Pakistan but West Pakistani goods had to pay nothing to access East Pakistani markets?

That right there was economic colonialism, the heart of the grievances of Bengalis, and the foundation of the massacre that followed soon after Ayub left office.

So yes, Ayub’s numbers look good, but they present an incomplete picture.

There is much more to the man’s legacy than a few factories.

And not all of it is particularly pleasant.

Read more by Farooq here, or follow him on Twitter @FarooqTirmizi


Farooq Tirmizi

The author is an investment analyst. He tweets as @FarooqTirmizi (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • afzaalkhan

    Great article thanks for writing it up.Recommend

  • sufian

    As straightforward and bold as ever, thanks for this Farooq. Unfortunately, we excel in our tendencies of forgiving our past rulers based on the ‘better-than-present’ notion. We’ve forgiven Musharraf for the damage he did let aside Ayub.Recommend

  • Pakistan politics

    Waiting for kayani to say: “Meray Aziz Ham Watnoo”Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    I think problems of Dictatorships start it from Ayub Khan and thats a bad thing happend country became Arm poochari and system did not devolped ……Recommend

  • Atif Nawaz

    This article is incomplete itself, although what you said is right, but still there were many other developments you forgot to mention, like construction of dams and all. All the dictators achieved what our democrats are still seeking the way to achieve. Recommend

  • Chief Marketing Officer @ Sociality360

    Can the author tell us the number of countries or companies he’s done a better job with?Recommend

  • CB Guy

    Its bs at best. Please point the damn things you think were allowing a few families to prosper? Please give us numbers and names of who have done better. You also conveniently forgot to mention Pakistan was self sufficient in food, the first developing nation to do so. It was bhutto who destroyed the industry, devalued the currency by more then 100 percent in a single year and even convinced Ayub to undertake the operation Giberaltor, which ended up in the 1965 war and forcing to pull a US consortium that was to invest 500 million dollars in 1965. Recommend

  • Ali

    Compared to the inept liars that populate the National Assembly at the moment, the stupid decisions made by our politicians (of all hues), their documented thieving and corruption..(I could go on and on but you get the idea.)

    Ayub Khan’s Pakistan was like paradise compared to today.Recommend

  • Akhtar Mahsood

    the dirty politics being played by politicians is actually inviiting military to intervene in civilian matters, and that will ultimately lead to military coup , as it did happen in recent past,but what ordinary citizens think about all this, as students which form of govt should we support as all of us ( members of this community ) must have seen both military govt,as well as civilian setup, the kind of difference i feel between two setups is that during military regime decisions were made and implemented not taking long time but during democracy ,decisions are first of all taken after long considerations, and lets suppose decisions are taken but their execution took much longer time , i am not saying at all that military rule is better than democracy but democracy must carry with it quick mechanism both at decision level as well as during execution. But we have paid a huge cost i.e. Our dictators have consumed the time period of ur immature politicians. Had they not interfered in government affairs our immature politicians would have learned a mature politics. They would have reached at sensible government. Major chunk of time has been devoted to get back power from military as nations tried to achieve independence from the rivalry states. For our politicians getting rid from dictator rule has been as they have been trying to get independence from british rule pre-pakistan efforts. We have repeatedly started from zero point. That seems like we are playing ludo game where one reaches at peak by his effort but a move comes which drags it down to the bottom by snake (azdaha). Again start from zero. After getting back power from dictator our state faces the problems more or less similar to those which have seen post-independence problemsRecommend

  • Asad Baig

    I think Ayub Biggest Crime was to shift the capital from Karachi.This step/decision has really hurt Pakistan very very badly.This decision has changed the dynamics of Pakistan for ever and has made Pakistan Worse Off economically and otherwise.Had Karachi been the capital as was envisioned by Mr.Jinnah, Pakistan would be a far far better off than today and Karachi too would have been a much peaceful place than it is now.Thanks to the Selfish and No Vision Decision of Ayub Khan which has helped acclerate the downward slide of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Salman Shah

    Well that ‘Decade of Development’ had a lot to do with bucks flowing in from his US masters. As per stats, the aid given in that decade alone is greater than that of the rest 5 decades combined. And this man is solely responsible for the political filth we have now.

    Here is the summary of US aid to Pakistan:

  • raza

    and then the great evil genius flipin bhutto who destroy the economy for his votes came and from there we are trickling downwords only zia era has some good time but not solid foundation has been layed so far by any one potentialy we r beter then india and china but in actual we r nowhere Recommend

  • Khan

    @CB Guy:

    and even convinced Ayub to undertake the operation Giberaltor

    Is that meant to be some kind of a joke or what?

    Are you implying that a civilian was able to convince a man in uniform to take decision of carrying out a military operation would not the sky fall if ever a man in boots cared to listened to a civilian for ANY policy let alone a military related? We (including the PM & President) are nothing but ‘Yes Sir’ to the Army despite their ability of destroying this country from inside out with their policies which can has only done harm to this country and its nation.

    When comparing Zia & Ayub’s growth rate please keep in mind Zia era was during Soviet war which was funded blindly by the Arabs, the United States and Heroin.Recommend

  • mani qadir

    Although I agree with the author that ayub was unfair to the bengalis, I believe that if you look at the condition of PakistAN before ayub’s time, his work in a way saved Pakistan from an untimely death! He signed the Indus water treaty and abolished taxes on business encouraging foreign investment and overall growth of the industries in a country that was till then completely dependant on agriculture , and as for why we needed aid ,well Pakistan was still a poor country that was just beginning to industrialized and many reforms had to be made to control the rapidly growing population , and to provide education., this all required money more than which the newly established industries etc. Could produce ! And ge established an industrial base regardless of its condition , it was the first step. Other than that ,a lot of our programs such as the space program was started by him ! So I believe that ayub did indeed save Pakistan , but he was not without fault !Recommend

  • Cynical

    @Salman Shah

    Good point.Also thanks for the link.It’s an eye opener.Recommend


    he did nothing for Pakistan Pakistan was broken due his mistake sold rivers and watercrisis coming is his giftRecommend

  • abdullah

    here military enter in operating position and here starts the arms race..Recommend

  • rumasa

    He has done much more than what author has mentioned, in a bad way. He was the first one to start qatl o gharat in karachi and shift the capital from karachi to isloo. Anyways good write up.Recommend

  • CB Guy

    @ Khan: Yes, coz he trusted Bhutto who by the way called him something on lines of dad, i think it was an affectionate “baba”. the so called champion of democracy was Ayub’s foreign minister, i hope that you know that. Ayub was a far better person for the country in comparison with all other dictators and even civilian governments. He did not put Marshal Law in place by the way. Iskander Mirza did. He just didn’t leave.

    Lastly, Bhutto is the history’s (not ours only, the world’s too) first ever civilian Marshal Administrator, yet he is a champion of Democracy. And his declaration of emergency less then 12 hours of the existence of 1972 constitution was also in the interest of the nation like Nawaz Sharif’s emergency or Musharaf’s several emergencies.

    @ Kashif Nisar: it wasnt him alone and it did not happen in one day. there were many who master minded this.Recommend

  • Umair

    These figures are wrong. The actual average GDP growth in Ayub Khan’s 11-year government is 5.479, and Zia-ul-Haq maintained an average GDP growth of 6.602, which the highest average of any government in the history of Pakistan. Bhutto had 4.423. Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    I think it is an art to settle for a lesser evil … an art which Pakistanis are devoid of !! No one is perfect ….Recommend

  • Mohammed Abbasi

    I wonder if Zias funding from the Americans and Saudis is included in hie economic performance?Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    Stupid article. And hardly any valid points were made against Ayub Khan. Look at Pakistan in the 1950s before Ayub Khan, and in Bhutto’s time. I think that, save for a few one-eyed “leftists”, it can be agreed that Ayub Khan’s era saw far more prosperity for Pakistan than either of these times. Similarly, look at Bhutto’s time and the 1990s, and compare that with Zia sahib’s time. It is clear the average Pakistani prospered far more under Zia than in either Bhutto’s time or the so-called Decade of Democracy. The same can be seen in Musharraf’s time when compared with the 1990s and the current government.Recommend

  • nemomil

    Those of us who actually experienced growing up during that wonderful decade of the 60s can tell you that there has never been a time that was better, at least in the Karachi I knew then. Compared to what Pakistan has become; that time, whether it was due to Ayub Khan or not, was pure Utopia. A lost age.Recommend

  • Anonymous

    i think v have conveniently forgotten zia’s islamization and the covert dealings in Afghanistan..they changed the face of our country permanenetly…but havin said that every regime/ democratically elected gov…has had its good/bad points…and so did ayub…who in fact has done much better than a lot of other rulers this country has seen… Recommend

  • Ahmad Fuad

    Dictators are good for NOTHING…. They don’t develop system.
    They can never be good for any nation.Recommend

  • Aslam khan

    link text

    US aid to Pakistan (Dictators were showered with dollars because they were poodles)Recommend

  • M. Ahmed

    One Unit, Son of the soil, Basic Democrats were all seeds of destruction and flawed policies adopted during Ayub era that weakened the foundation of Pakistan.

    Worst of all, in 1969 he handed over the country to a general instead of the Speaker of the Assembly as per constitution. The consequence of his action spelled disaster for the country.

    He never said so but his action also implied “Pakistan ka Allah hi hafiz”. Rings a bell ?Recommend

  • Sane

    @Ali Tanoli
    Dude! which system you are talking about? democracy’ to which we are the sufferers. If this is developed more than imagine what would happen. majority of NA & PA seats are from rural areas and these areas and voting pattern and the circumstances under which rural voters vote shall remain unchanged. So, if ‘system’ develops further imaging the havoc.Recommend

  • Nazir Ahmed

    The author has asked a good question. If he wants to find answer he should not go by the statistics but try to get the impressions of people, now in their seventies like me who lived in Ayub Khan’s era. If the objective of a government is to look after and take care for its citizens, then no other period in our short history is comparable to those about seven to eight years before the 1965 war with India.

    During Ayub Khan’s rule Pakistan, then the largest Muslim country of the world was enjoying great prestige in the comity of nations. It was a liberal, peaceful, tolerant and relatively prosperous society. Unemployment was almost zero. There were lot of employment opportunities in the expanding industries in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Lyallpur (now Faisalabad) and other cities. The peasants in rain fed areas would get seasonal employment in construction industry in the big cities between the period of sowing winter crops and their harvesting time. Everyone seemed happy and satisfied with life in vibrant social and cultural activities like frequent local festivals and sports events of all kinds.

    The years of President Ayub Khan’s rule witnessed rapid progress in every field. Development in agriculture, industry, particularly in the textile sector, trading, commerce and almost every field was taken as model by the other third world countries. . Two major water storage dams, one at Mangla on river Jhelum and another at Tarbela on river Indus were constructed after resolving sharing of river waters dispute with India through World Bank.

    Field Martial Muhammad Ayub Khan, a graduate of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, UK, groomed in British Military tradition was a towering personality, a very impressive man. He was contemporary of Eisenhower in the USA, Charles de Gaul in France, Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia, Jamal Abdul Nassir in Egypt, Marshal Franco in Spin and some more military men in leadership role in their respective countries. So his military ‘disqualification’ should not be taken in isolation. In fact it was considered a plus point during that period as it evident from the names of the leaders I have mentioned.Recommend

  • R.A

    Just compare your statistics if there was
    no war in 1965 and tell us the achievements
    up to that time.
    It looks like that you yourselfe
    do not remember pre war times when
    most people were happy because it was
    so peaceful comparing latter times
    Pakistan had respect all over the world
    so much that many Indins used to feel
    pride to call themselves Pakistanis.
    Only ONE blame goes to Ayub that
    there was no true democracy,but his dictatoship
    was far better than any other period.

  • Ghassan Khan

    @Pakistan politics:
    hahaha thats what they always say. Recommend

  • Hassan

    Very gud article …Need for the Strength of political stability over ecomomic growth has more value to consider , rest depends on Niyat and Foreign policy …Recommend

  • ayesha_khan

    @Mustafa Moiz: Your point is that Pakistani economy has done better under dictators than democracy. True. It is also true that all dictators got Pakistan into an unnecessary war which had several other long term consequences even if the economy benefitted. The partition of Bangladesh was a direct outcome of Aub’s policies and Yahya Khan’s Operation Searchlight. Zia’s participation in Afghan jihad had a great deal to do with radicalization, weaponization and drug culture in Pakistan. Musharraf alienated Balochs and his actions plus army operations even since 2008 in Balochistan have led to a strong insurgency movement there.Musharraf also started and lost Kargill and signed up for Global War on terror without any boundaries.


  • ayesha_khan

    @Nazir Ahmed: “Everyone seemed happy and satisfied with life in vibrant social and cultural activities like frequent local festivals and sports events of all kinds.”

    Evidently not the people of East Pakistan who constituted greater than 50% of your population then.Recommend

  • ayesha_khan

    @R.A: “Just compare your statistics if there was
    no war in 1965 and tell us the achievements
    up to that time.”

    And who started the war in 1965? Contrary to what you are told while celebrating Defence Day on September 6, it was Ayub that started the 1965 war.Recommend

  • Nazir Ahmed


    How do you say that people of East Pakistan were not living a peaceful life? What you have been fed through the distortions and lies is contrary to facts on ground. I had traversed almost one fourth of East Pakistan, mostly on foot in those fateful months between April and Dec 71 and was amongst about thirty two thousands Army men who languished in Indian POW camps for over two years. My facts are different. Even the figure of POWs was grossly exaggerated. The total figure could not be more than forty thousands; probably a figure of thirty nine thousands inverted to ninety three thousands touted for many years and now reduced somewhat to ninety thousands. This space cannot cover the facts about East Pakistan tragedy. With your frequent contributions you seem eager in search of truth. I can provide some details to you or anyone interested which I have gathered from Indian publications and my personal experience that will give a different perspective. I can be reached at [email protected]

  • Mustafa Moiz

    You’re blaming Ayub Khan for the 1971 war (for which, by the way, he volunteered himself to fight), I primarily blame Bhutto. There were many at fault, in fact, no one was completely in the right, in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, but the primary blame lies with Bhutto in my opinion.
    Secondly, weaponization, drug culture and radicalization would have taken place whether or not Zia had supported the Afghan jihad. Afghan refugees would still have flooded into Pakistan, and brought weapons and the drug trade with them. Pakistanis, and others using Pakistan as a base to enter Afghanistan, would still have volunteered to fight against the Russians whether or not Zia agreed to fight the war. What Zia did was, in the face of the inevitable consequences, create (and I mean literally create out of thin air, that’s the magnitude of what he managed to do) the best scenario Pakistan could possibly have. With three enemies on your borders, including one of the world’s superpowers, what can you do? Zia had to support the Americans, we needed the Russians off our borders, Iran was hostile, so was India of course, and now Afghanistan was a base for an unfriendly superpower. Look at Pakistan’s situation. What Zia managed was some US aid (and even the amount given to Pakistan was nothing compared with the burden of undertaking refugees), military modernization, the actual development of our nuclear program (Bhutto did nothing except talk about eating grass if needed) and we actually beat the Russians. If the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Free World emerging victorious in the Cold War could be credited to anyone after the US, it would be Pakistan, thanks to the Afghan jihad.
    I have talked a lot about the Baloch issue, and if you would like to specifically discuss that, just say so. But I applaud Musharraf`s actions with regard to the Baloch issue.Recommend

  • Azharuddin Masood

    Very Golden, everywhere it used to be gold, gold, gold and gold. Even trees used to have golden leaves in Ayub Khan’s era. In mango season in Ayub Khan’s era, markets used to be flooded with golden mangoes and I remember I purchased 5 Kgs of Golden Mangoes @ the price of Pakistani Rupee 1.50 per Kg. Recommend

  • asad

    marginalisation of east pakistanis is his cardinal sin but then again that wouldnt find space in your write up since u focus on the economics side of the spectrum.. he single handedly patronized, castrated and battered our bengali brothers. he broke the country and yet our history is manipulated. one must read KK Aziz’s the murder of history for more specificsRecommend

  • Iqbal73

    @Mustafa Moiz, perhaps you can provide some evidence to show that Bhutto was the one who spoke condescendingly of East Pakistanis and then ordered military crackdown on March 25, 1971 (nothing to do with Army and senior generals, of course).

    – Evidence might be of help for those of use who have trouble “connecting the dots” to figure out how “weaponization, drug culture and radicalization” in Pakistan would have followed as surely as night follows day once Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979.

    – Lastly, perhaps you can provide a citation to any halfway scholarly article that purports to show how “thanks to the Afghan jihad” the Soviet Union disintegrated (nothing to do with $2 trillion spent over 45 years by US, Western Europe, and Japan and non-competitive East bloc economy, of course; e.g. East German Trabant vs. West German Mercedes-Benz).

    It is bombastic Nasim Hijazi’s fantasy based worldview holding folks like you who are responsible for keeping Pakistan year after year in the list of 4 most despised countries in the world (which form a statistical outlier group of their own).Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    As to the first part, quite easily. Look it up on Youtube, real face of bhutto, and you should get what you’re looking for.
    Secondly, the Afghani refugees would have streamed in whether we joined the fight or not (and we would have had to inevitably). And Arabs as well as Pakistanis and other Muslims would still have volunteered to fight in Afghanistan, and would have used Pakistan as a base. That would have happened whether we sided with the Afghani people and the United States or we took no part in the conflict.
    To the scholarly article, no, I have better things to do with my time. Look for it yourself. Of course, even if you find one, you’ll just say you don’t trust the writer or its a disreputable source since it hasn’t come straight from Najam Sethi or Ahmed Rashid or Ayesha Siddiqa.Recommend

  • bilal

    good analysis!
    however, I wouldve thought that the selling of water rights through the Undus water treaty wouldve found a mentionRecommend

  • Iqbal73

    @Mustafa Moiz, your disjointed response remind me of something Ayesha Jalal said about the incapacity to build an argument and substitute things like watching a youtube video for anything that might remotely be called a reasoned answer: “There’s a reality deficit, which stems from a fundamental ahistorical understanding.”

    Afghan refugees streamed into Iran also, yet despite their other problems including an 8 year war against Iraq, they seem to not have suffered “weaponization, drug culture and radicalization” or even hosted thousands of heavily armed “volunteers” whom they allowed free access to roam all over their country.

    Incidentally, following Jalal’s advice on historical methodology it appears from declassified Soviet archives that they wanted to leave Afghanistan in the early 80s, but it was self-appointed President Zia’s Jehad that kept them there till 1988 (even that departure was largely due to the efforts of Junejo whose prize for inclusive politics was being dismissed by the increasingly unhinged General Zia).Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    You asked me three questions, I gave you three answers. Am I supposed to write an essay on it?
    The easiest place to find videos are on Youtube, so I told you to look up a video on Youtube. I even told you what to search exactly.
    Iran collected them all at the border and they’re languishing in prisons even now. Is that the kind of inhumanity Pakistan is supposed to show? That’s how Iran controlled the problem.
    About the last part of what you said, I’ve heard that the Soviets wanted to leave, but not Zia, it was the Americans who were the reason at that time for them not leaving. Anyways, I’ve only heard that, and I’ll try and substantiate what you’ve said. But from what I understand, why would the Soviets leave in the early 1980s, when they had loyal Afghani sellouts like Ahmad Shah Massoud undermining the Afghan freedom fighters?Recommend

  • Red

    @Nazir Khan

    I agree with you. My mother also speaks very fondly of Ayub Khan’s time. I likewise value the experience of people who lived through 1971, especially people who were in the middle of what was happening. I think the experiences of people who lived through those times should be given utmost important.Recommend

  • Waqar

    jinab, 1st of all Ayub Khan was founder of constructive development of pakistan… His tenure was spent in building constructive works like Dams, Barrages, factories etc… Zia-ul-haq’s time economy leads due to these ready made constructions… So Ayub Khan remains leader of development in pakistan… “Khandar bata rahy hain imarat haseen thee”Recommend