Experiment with Liberalized Politics

Experiment with Liberalized Politics

The third major policy focus of the immediate post-World War II period wasShah Mahmud's experiment in greater political tolerance and liberalization.Encouraged by young, Western-educated members of the political elite, the primeminister allowed National Assembly elections that were distinctly lesscontrolled than they had been in the past; the result was the "liberalparliament" of 1949. He tolerated the activity of opposition politicalgroups. The most vocal of these groups was the Wikh-i-Zalmayan (Awakened Youth),a movement comprised of diverse dissident groups founded in Qandahar in 1947. Anewly formed student union not only provided a forum for political debate butalso produced theatrical plays critical of Islam and the monarchy. Newspaperscriticized the government, and many groups began demanding a more open politicalsystem.

But the liberalization went farther than the prime minister had intended. Hereacted by attempting to form a government party, and when this failed, he begancracking down. The Kabul University student union was dissolved in 1951;newspapers criticizing the government were closed down; many opposition leaderswere jailed. The parliament that was elected in 1952 was a significant stepbackward from the one that had been elected in 1949. The brief experiment inopen politics was over.

Despite its failure, the liberal experiment had important repercussions forthe nation's political future: it provided a breeding ground for therevolutionary movement that would come to power in 1978. Future Marxist leadersof Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki, Babrak Karmal, and Hafizullah Amin were allinvolved. The government crackdown in 1951 and 1952 that brought an abrupt endto liberalization alienated many young, reformist Afghans who had originallyhoped only to improve the existing structure rather than radically transformingit.

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