(1872 - 1919) was the Emir of Afghanistan from 1901 until
1919. He was born in Tashkent, the eldest son of the Emir
Abdur Rahman Khan, whom he succeeded by right of primogeniture
in October 1901.
He was Abdul Rahman's eldest son but child of a diffrent
mother, kept a close watch on the palace intrigues revolving
around his father's more distinguished wife (a granddaughter
of Dost Mohammad), who sought the throne for her own son.
Although made secure in his position as ruler by virtue of
support from the army which was created by his father,
Habibullah was not as domineering as Abdur Rahman.
Consequently, the influence of religious leaders as well as
that of Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, a cousin of the king, increased
during his reign. Tarzi, a highly educated, well-traveled poet
and journalist, founded an Afghan nationalist newspaper with
Abdur Rahman's agreement, and until 1919 he used the newspaper
as a platform for rebutting clerical criticism of
Western-influenced changes in government and society, for
espousing full Afghan independence, and for other reforms.
Tarzi's passionate Afghan nationalism influenced a future
generation of Asian reformers.
Habibullah was a relatively secular, reform-minded ruler who
attempted to modernize his country. During his reign he worked
to bring Western medicine and other technology to Afghanistan.
In 1904, Habibullah founded the Habibia school as well as a
military academy. He also published a weekly paper in Persian
called Siraj-ul-Akhbar, which agitated for reform. He
instituted various legal reforms and repealed many of the
harshest criminal penalties. Other reforms included the
dismantling of the repressive internal intelligence
organization that had been put in place by his father.
He strictly maintained the country's neutrality in World War
I, despite strenuous efforts by the Sultan of Turkey,
spiritual ruler of Islam, to enlist Afghanistan on its side.
He also greatly reduced tensions with India, signing a treaty
of friendship in 1905 and paying an official state visit in
During World War I, Afghanistan remained neutral despite
pressure to support Turkey when its sultan proclaimed his
nation's participation in what it considered a holy war.
Habibullah did, however, entertain a Turco-German mission in
Kabul in 1915. After much procrastination, he won an agreement
from the Central Powers for a huge payment and arms provision
in exchange for attacking British India. But the crafty Afghan
ruler clearly viewed the war as an opportunity to play one
side off against the other, for he also offered the British to
resist a Central Powers from an attack on India in exchange
for an end to British control of Afghan foreign policy.
On February 20,
1919, Habibullah, the ruler of Afghanistan, was assassinated
on a hunting trip. He had not declared a succession, but left
his third son, Amanullah, in charge in Kabul. Because
Amanullah controlled both the national treasury and the army,
he was well situated to seize power. Army support allowed
Amanullah to suppress other claims and imprison those
relatives who would not swear loyalty to him. Within a few
months, the new amir had gained the allegiance of most tribal
leaders and established control over the cities.