Zahir, last in the 226-year dynasty of Pashtun monarchs to
rule Afghanistan, emerged in the fall of 2001 as a symbol of
unity for his country. In December 2001 Zahir Shah gave his
blessing to Hamid Karzai, a fellow Pashtun selected as an
interim leader for the troubled country.
The son of King
Nadir Shah of Afghanistan, Muhammad Zahir Shah was born on
October 15, 1914, in the capital city of Kabul. Educated in
both his native country and France, he was thrust suddenly
into power at the age of 19, only hours after his father was
assassinated. On November 8, 1933, he replaced his father on
the throne of the Durani dynasty, first established in 1747 by
Ahmad Shah. The young monarch adopted the title Mutawakkil
Ala'llah, Pairaw-I Din-I Matin-I slam ("Confident in God,
Follower of the Firm Religion of Islam").
instituted programs of political and economic modernization,
ushering in a democratic legislature, education for women and
other such changes. These reforms put him at odds with the
religious militants who opposed him.
joined the League of Nations in 1934, the same year the United
States officially recognized Afghanistan. The conclusion of
the Treaty of Saadabad with Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in 1937
reinforced Afghanistan's regional ties to neighboring Islamic
outbreak of World War II, the king proclaimed Afghan
neutrality on August 17, 1940, but the Allies were unhappy
with the presence of a large group of German non-diplomatic
personnel. In October British and Soviet governments demanded
that Afghanistan expel all non-diplomatic personnel from the
Axis nations. Although the Afghan government considered this
demand insulting and illegitimate, it appeared to heed the
example of Iran; Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran in
August 1941 after the government ignored a similar demand.
Afghanistan ordered non-diplomatic personnel from all
belligerents to leave, and a loya jirga called by the king
supported his policy of absolute neutrality. As the war
progressed, it provided larger markets for Afghan agricultural
produce especially in India.
He also oversaw
the opening of relations with the newly created state of
Pakistan, which inherited the Pashtuns from the formerly
British-ruled side of the Durand Line. The Pashtuns sought an
independent or semi-independent statehood, that would include
the Pashto speakers within Pakistan, but Zahir Shah did
nothing to support or reject this notion.
mid-1953, the younger members of the royal family, which may
have included the king himself, challenged domination by the
king's uncles. The rift became public in September 1953 when
the king's cousin and brother-in-law, Mohammad Daoud, became
greatest achievement of the 1963-73 decade was the
promulgation of the 1964 constitution. Zahir Shah was gaining
a reputation of being lazy and letting everything pass him by.
The Ambitious Daud Khan resigned in protest soon after.
On January 1,
1965, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was
founded. The PDPA, a communist party in fact if not in name,
was established for the primary purpose of gaining
parliamentary seats. The PDPA was comprised of a small group
of men, followers of Noor Mohammad Taraki and Babrak Karmal,
both avowed Marxist-Leninists with a pro-Moscow orientation.
There were daily demonstrations on the streets of Kabul by the
students, dogs were dressed as Zahir shah and dragged towards
the Kings Palace, and Zahir Shah ignored them.
1969 parliamentary elections, when voter turnout was not much
greater than in 1965 produced a legislative assembly
essentially consistent with the real population and
distribution of power in the hinterland, in that conservative
landowners and businessmen predominated and many more non-Pashtuns
were elected than in the previous legislature. Most of the
urban liberals and all of the female delegates lost their
seats. Few leftists remained in the new parliament, although
Karmal and Hafizullah Amin had been elected from districts in
and near Kabul. Former prime minister Maiwandwal, a democratic
socialist, lost his seat when the government selectively
influenced the elections.
and 1973, instability ruled Afghan politics. The parliament
was lethargic and deadlocked. Public dissatisfaction over the
unstable government prompted growing political polarization as
both the left and the right began to attract more members.
Still personally popular, the king nevertheless came under
increasing criticism for not supporting his own prime
was in this atmosphere of internal discontent and polarization
and external shakiness that Daoud implemented the coup d'état
he had been planning for a year in response to the "anarchy
and the anti-national attitude of the regime." While the king
was out of the country for medical treatment, Daoud and a
group seized power in an almost bloodless coup. There were
dancing in the streets of Kabul and singers sang songs of the
young repulic as Daud Khan proclaim Afghanistan a republic and
himself as president.
the 1973 coup, Zahir shah relinquished his claim to the thrown
and spent life with his family in villa in Italy. On April 18,
2002 former Afghan king Zahir Shah returned to Kabul after 29
years in exile. Overjoyed at his return, delegations from all
over Afghanistan flooded to the airport to greet him. Although
the 87-year old former monarch returned as an ordinary
citizen, his arrival was seen as a force for unification, as
he is seen as symbol of better times in pre-war Afghanistan.
The former king still commands considerable respect.
Constitutional Loya Jirga declared Zahir Shah Father of the
Nation and was to live in his palace thereafter.