King Zahir Shah

Zahir Shah was nineteen at the time of his accession-still very young to assume control of so turbulent a country. In keeping with Afghan tradition, the late king's brothers assumed control, although they did not contest the throne. The power struggles of the past were abandoned.

In 1953 the kings' uncle stepped down, to be replaced by first cousins of the king's generation. Prime Minister Daud, himself a professional soldier, and Foreign Minister Naim controlled the administration, the police, and the armed forced for a decade. In the early 1960s quarrels with Pakistan over the rights of the Pashtun tribes living in the frontier areas led to border closings and severe dislocations in Afghanistan's normal trade. As the border crisis dragged on from 1961 to 1963, it became clear that a change in cabinet policy was necessary to negotiate the reopening of the trade routes to the Indian subcontinent. At the king's request, Prime Minister Daud Khan quietly stepped down from his powerful position at the head of the government.

In appointing new prime minister and council of ministers, the king excluded all members of the Afghan royal family for the first time. At the same time, he announced that a new constitution would replace that of 1931. Clearly he had decided that the time had come to bring the educated people of the country into the governing process. The constitution was written and approved in 1964 by a Loya Jirga (grand assembly) was a far more precise document than its predecessor, creating separate and independent executive, legislative, and judicial branches, excluding all close relatives of the king from high office and providing for the establishment of political parties and a free press.

The new parliament (Wolesi Jirga) suffered particularly from its members' lack of understanding of their legislative function. The deputies were largely conservative landowners or tribal and religious leaders from rural areas, who had little experience with constitutional government. At the same time prime ministers and their councils of ministers found it very difficult to exercise any dynamic leadership under the new constitution. Power remained, consequently, very much in the hands of the king, who not only frequently exerted personal pressure on deputies to get bills through parliament, but also governed by royal decree when parliament failed to pass budgets and other bills.

Despite all of the problems under the new constitution and government policies, the country's growth was at its highest in its history and its people were mostly happy with the king and in the rural areas, tribal groups were happy since they were treated very well by the monarchy. Women got more freedom during King Zahir Shah's reign than any other ruler in the history of the country.

But when a severe drought in 1971-1972 worsened economic conditions as well, Daud Khan took advantage of the absence of Zahir Shah on a trip to Europe to seize control of the government in a relatively bloodless military coup d'etat. Daud Khan proclaimed the end of the monarchy and the creation of a republic, with himself as first president and prime minister.

Zahir Shah now lives in Rome, Italy and he is relatively in a good health. Today, a percentage of the population would like to see him come back as a leader and put the country back on track with the rest of the world. He is still the most prominent figure in the minds and souls of the Afghan people. Afghanistan today needs a neutral person to led to the way. The most positive thing that could occur in Afghanistan would be for a strong leader to emerge who could reunite his people and rally them in support of the national cause. Without such a leader, Afghanistan could continue will into the next century in a state of chaos, with many competing groups intriguing with each other and fighting for power.

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