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   Mohammad Zahir Shah
Zahir Shah 1937By Afghanland.com:

Muhammad 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").

Zahir Shah Reading his National Geographic MagazineHe 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.

Afghanistan 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 States.

After the 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.

Zahir Shah with Daud Khan and Naim Khan at Loya JirgaBy 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 prime minister

The single 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.

The 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.

Between 1969 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 ministers.

It 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 small military 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.

Zahir Shah returns to KabulAfter 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.

The Constitutional Loya Jirga declared Zahir Shah Father of the Nation and was to live in his palace thereafter.


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