Disenchantment with the Reforms

Disenchantment with the Reforms

Toward the end of the constitutional period, the Wolesi Jirgah becameincreasingly critical of the government. In May 1972 the incoming cabinet wassubjected to nineteen days of denunciation of the previous cabinet before it wasgiven grudging approval. Despite a heavy backlog of bills, foreign loanagreements, budgets and treaties, it found a quorum only once in two months inthe autumn session of 1972. In its final session (Spring 1973), it reached aquorum once in eighty-two days.

Such legislative failures were crucial to the demise of the constitutionaleffort. The Jirgah's recalcitrance seriously affected the morale and disciplineof the bureaucracy. In an atmosphere of contention both sides becameincreasingly frustrated and corrupt.

Government performance was unpromising in other areas. Economic developmentwas moving from construction projects to more advanced operational phases.Afghan government departments and industrial units found the transitiondifficult. Productivity failed to keep up with the infusion of foreign money,bringing serious inflation to Kabul in the early 1970s.

As the rural population became increasingly aware of the concentration ofmodern facilities and industry in Kabul and a few other cities, signs ofresentment assumed political importance. This mood changed to widespread angerwhen the government failed to respond promptly and adequately to a drought whichravaged the Hazarajat and much of northern Afghanistan in 1970-72. Theexperiment in democracy had brought few benefits to the most Afghans whileeconomic opportunities and profits from corruption appeared to be monopolized bythe elite.

Discontent was especially intense among the rapidly growing numbers ofsecondary and university students. Between 1967 and 1972 the number of secondaryschools increased from forty to approximately 200. A much wider segment of ruraland small town youth was graduating from the middle schools beneath them. By1973 the number of secondary school graduates far exceeded the openings tohigher education available at the university, the teacher training colleges, orthe various technical institutions.

Previously, the rural population had been content with informal, largelyreligious, instruction offered by resident mullahs,which produced rudimentaryliteracy at best. By the late 1960s,villages throughout Afghanistan werevolunteering materials and labor to construct school buildings and wereclamoring for the government to send teachers. Education had become identifiedwith upward social mobility.

In the early 1970s,the products of this burgeoning system were mostlyconverging on Kabul. The revolution in expectations had suddenly created amarginalized class which was unemployed or forced to accept work far beneath itsexpectations. Embitterment changed many students and graduates into recruits forradical and protest movements.

Marxist critiques of the constitutional experiment quickly appeared. In 1966a newspaper published by the newly formed communist party branded the reforms anattempt to co-opt the expanding educated elite so that the monarchy could toretain power. Activist students on the Kabul University campus organizedinformal political and study groups that ran the spectrum from Maoism to theIslamist views of the Muslim Brotherhood. By 1970 the strongest of these hadbecome well organized. The Marxists were foreign funded and advised. Led by amedical student, Najibullah (later to be president of the Marxist government),they took control of the student government. In the early 1970s, they lost it totheir militant Muslim rivals.

Both sides opposed the government, and both movements flourished on theanxieties of students for whom jobs were suddenly scarce. Both also saw thepolitical establishment as a corrupt impediment to their own opportunities, andboth demanded radical changes in the structure of political power.

These problems and growing resentments gave Zahir Shah ample reason to doubtthe viability of the constitutional experiment. His attempt to broaden andliberalize government had created growing opposition. It had not brought about avisible improvement in government performance, especially in planning andimplementing development. Foreign assistance was declining--the Arab oil boomthat brought new funding was still in the future. Sooner or later the survivalof the government would again depend upon effective coercion. Zahir Shah hadnever directly associated himself with that side of statecraft.


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