Why did Ayub Ali Khan come to Power in 1958?

by Taha Cheema

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As an IGCSE/O Level Pakistan Studies student, you are often tested on reasoning-based 7-mark questions in CAIE exams. “Why did Ayub Ali Khan come to power in 1958” is one question that frequently appears in O Level Pakistan Studies past papers. So let’s dive in and explore how to answer this 7-mark History question!

Steps on How to Answer 7-Mark Question:

Step #1: Identify the Key Reasons

Step #2: Build Reasoning and Links in Explanation

Let's expand on these steps!

CTA Slide 1


Steps on How to Answer 7-Mark Question:

Step #1: Identify the Key Reasons

When answering a “why” question in IGCSE/O Level Pakistan Studies - History, begin by identifying key reasons before starting your explanation. This approach ensures you stay to the point and can write the response quickly. 

Ayub Ali Khan came to power in 1958. We should explore the events preceding this time for insights:

  1. Between 1956 and 1958, the political landscape of Pakistan was volatile. There were rapid changes in Prime Ministers

  2. Political instability creates a greater possibility for a military coup to take place and overthrow the civilian government.

  3. Can public sentiment be affected by poor civilian leadership? Could this have helped Ayub Ali Khan consolidate power?

  4. Did East Pakistan’s resentment at not being included in political leadership play a role in this? Perhaps Ayub Khan didn’t want power to go to the East wing and hence conducted the coup.

You can secure 2-4 marks for the question by mentioning these reasons in your O Level Pakistan Studies exam.

*Tip: If short on time, jot down any reasons that come to mind instead of leaving the question blank.


Step #2: Build Reasoning and Links in Explanation:

We can now build a stronger argument to answer, “How did Ayub Khan achieve power?”.

Sample Response:

Between 1956 and 1958, Pakistan experienced significant political instability with frequent changes in its Prime Ministers. This instability reached a point where Ayub Ali Khan, with his military background, believed that the army should intervene to restore stability and address the unresolved issues plaguing the government. 

Moreover, there was growing tension due to demands from East Pakistan’s politicians for greater involvement in central governance. This period also saw Iskander Mirza, the then-President, losing support from key political figures. He was particularly concerned about a plan by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy to unite the political forces of Bengal and Punjab against him. In this context of heightened political uncertainty and perceived threats to national unity, Ayub Khan and the military leadership saw an opportunity and felt justified in taking control of the government to steer the country towards stability.


Detailed Analysis:

Note how the response above connected the reasons we explored in Step #1:

  • Frequent changes of Prime Ministers and political instability created conditions in which a military leader to conduct a coup and justify it

  • East Pakistan was growing resentful of power being concentrated in West Pakistan. The response above connected this to how Ayub Ali Khan consolidated power to prevent this from happening since he belonged to the West Pakistani elite.

CTA Slide 2


Other Aspects of Ayub Ali Khan’s Rule

Let us also explore some related questions to Ayub Ali Khan’s rule that you may encounter in your IGCSE/O Level Pakistan Studies past papers


What is the Basic Democracy of Ayub Khan? (4 mark question)

Ayub Khan didn’t want to portray himself as a complete dictator and introduced a system called “basic democracies” to involve civilians in some level of government. This system led to the introduction of local governing bodies with elected members but was criticized for being under the control of the central authorities regardless.


Why was Martial Law declared in 1958? (7 mark question) 

There were several Prime Ministers between 1956 and 1958 and it reached a stage when Ayub Khan achieved that status that he felt the army should take control until stability had been restored and questions answered. East Pakistan’s politicians wanted more say in the running of the central government which increased tension.


Why did Ayub Khan resign? (7 mark question) 

The main reason for the downfall of Ayub Khan was widespread discontentment from the public:

  • People began to see his rule as authoritarian

  • Economic grievances intensified after the 1965 war with India, and the blame was placed on Ayub Ali Khan

  • Political unrest increased in Pakistan as student unions and other political organizations began protesting against his rule.

Eventually, Ayub Ali Khan resigned in the face of all the opposition in 1969.


CTA Slide 3



In summary, Ayub Khan’s rise to power in 1958 can be traced down to the political instability of the preceding years. His decade-long government saw a lot of economic progress for Pakistan but ended abruptly as political discontent grew in the latter part of the 1960s.

If you found this guide to answering IGCSE & O Level Pakistan Studies past paper questions useful, check out the O Level & IGCSE Pakistan Studies crash course and get an edge in your preparation!


Most Common Repeated Questions:

Unlock the secrets to acing your CAIE IGCSE or O Level exams with a sneak peek into the most frequently asked questions that have graced the pages of O Level pak studies past papers!

  1. Explain why Ayub Khan came to power in 1958. (7) [Oct/Nov 2013, 2020, 2022]
  2. Why was Martial Law declared in 1958? (7) [Oct/Nov 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2016]
  3. Which of the following was the most important contribution of Ayub Khan’s government during the ‘decade of development’ between 1958 and 1969: (i) agricultural and other economic reforms; (ii) constitutional reforms; (iii) foreign policy? Explain your answer with reference to all three of the above. (14) [Oct/Nov 2003, May/ June 2014, 2019]
  4. ‘Constitutional reforms were the most important of Ayub Khan’s domestic policies during the ‘decade of development’ between 1958 and 1969.” Do you agree? Give reasons for your answer. (14) [May/June 2005]
  5. ‘Ayub Khan’s agricultural reforms were more successful than any other of his domestic policies between 1958 and 1969’. Do you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your answer. (14) [Oct/Nov 2007, May/June 2021]
  6. Explain why Ayub Khan called the years 1958 to 1969 the ‘Decade of Progress’. (7) [May/June 2008, 2010]
  7. What were the Basic Democracies? (14) [Oct/Nov 2011]

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