Mohammad Zahir Shah, 1933-73

Mohammad Zahir Shah, 1933-73

Zahir Shah, Nadir Shan's son and successor, became Afghanistan's final king.For his first thirty years on the throne, he accepted the tutelage of powerfuladvisers in the royal family, first his uncles, later his cousin, Mohammad DaoudKhan. And only in the last decade of his sovereignty did Zahir Shah rule as wellas reign unencumbered.

Zahir Shah and His Uncles, 1933-53

Three of the four Musahiban brothers survived Nadir Shah's death, and went onto exercise decisive influence over decision making during Zahir Shah's firsttwenty years of reign. The eldest, Muhammad Hashim, who had been prime ministerunder the previous king, retained that post until replaced by his youngestbrother, Shah Mahmud in 1946.

Hashim put into effect the policies already orchestrated by his brothers.Internal objectives of the new Afghan government focused on strengthening thearmy and shoring up the economy, including transport and communications. Bothgoals required foreign assistance. Preferring not to involve the Soviet Union orBritain, Hashim turned to Germany. By 1935 German experts and businessmen hadset up factories and hydroelectric projects at the invitation of the Afghangovernment. Smaller amounts of aid were also forthcoming from Japan and Italy.

Afghanistan joined the League of Nations in 1934, the same year the UnitedStates officially recognized Afghanistan. The conclusion of the Treaty ofSaadabad with Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in 1937 reinforced Afghanistan's regionalties to neighboring Islamic States.

After the outbreak of World War II, the king proclaimed Afghan neutrality onAugust 17, 1940, but the Allies were unhappy with the presence of a large groupof German nondiplomatic personnel. In October British and Soviet governmentsdemanded that Afghanistan expel all nondiplomatic personnel from the Axisnations. Although the Afghan government considered this demand insulting andillegitimate, it appeared to heed the example of Iran; Britain and the SovietUnion occupied Iran in August 1941 after the government ignored a similardemand. Afghanistan ordered nondiplomatic personnel from all belligerents toleave, and a loya jirgah called by the king supported his policy of absoluteneutrality. As the war progressed, it provided larger markets for Afghanagricultural produce (especially in India).

Shortly before the end of the war, Shah Mahmud replaced his older brother asprime minister, ushering in a period of great change in both internal andexternal policies. Among other things, he presided over the inauguration of theHelmand Valley Project, a cooperative irrigation venture drawing Afghanistaninto a closer relationship with the United States, which financed much of thework, He also oversaw the opening of relations with the newly created state ofPakistan, which inherited the Pashtuns from the formerly British-ruled side ofthe Durand Line. The Pashtuns (or Pakhtuns) sought an independent orsemi-independent statehood, that would include the Pashto (or Pakhtu) speakerswithin Pakistan. This issue would have a resounding impact on Afghan politics,as would Shah Mahmud's political liberalization of the country.

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