Reform, Popular Reaction, and Forced Abdication

Reform, Popular Reaction, and Forced Abdication

Amanullah's domestic reforms were no less dramatic than his foreign policyinitiatives, but those reforms could not match his achievement of complete,lasting independence. Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, Amanullah's father-in-law, encouragedthe monarch's interest in social and political reform but urged that it begradually built upon the basis of a strong army and central government, as hadoccurred in Turkey under Kemal Atatürk. Amanullah, however, was unwilling toput off implementing his changes.

Amanullah's reforms touched on many areas of Afghan life. In 1921 heestablished an air force, albeit with only a few Soviet planes and pilots;Afghan personnel later received training in France, Italy, and Turkey. Althoughhe came to power with army support, Amanullah alienated many army personnel byreducing both their pay and size of the forces and by altering recruitingpatterns to prevent tribal leaders from controlling who joined the service.Amanullah's Turkish advisers suggested the king retire the older officers, menwho were set in their ways and might resist the formation of a more professionalarmy. Amanullah's minister of war, General Muhammad Nadir Khan, a member of theMusahiban branch of the royal family, opposed these changes, preferring insteadto recognize tribal sensitivities. The king rejected Nadir Khan's advice and ananti-Turkish faction took root in the army; in 1924 Nadir Khan left thegovernment to become ambassador to France.

If fully enacted, Amanullah's reforms would have totally transformedAfghanistan. Most of his proposals, however, died with his abdication. Histransforming social and educational reforms included: adopting the solarcalendar, requiring Western dress in parts of Kabul and elsewhere, discouragingthe veiling and seclusion of women, abolishing slavery and forced labor,introducing secular education (for girls as well as boys); adult educationclasses and educating nomads. His economic reforms included restructuring,reorganizing, and rationalizing the entire tax structure, antismuggling andanticorruption campaigns, a livestock census for taxation purposes, the firstbudget (in 1922), implementing the metric system (which did not take hold),establishing the Bank-i-Melli (National Bank) in 1928, and introducing theafghani as the new unit of currency in 1923.

The political and judicial reforms Amanuallah proposed were equally radicalfor the time and included the creation of Afghanistan's first constitution (in1923), the guarantee of civil rights (first by decree and laterconstitutionally), national registration and identity cards for the citizenry,the establishment of a legislative assembly, a court system to enforce newsecular penal, civil, and commercial codes, prohibition of blood money, andabolition of subsidies and privileges for tribal chiefs and the royal family.

Although sharia (Islamic law) was to be the residual source of law,it regained prominence after the Khost rebellion of 1923-24. Religious leaders,who had gained influence under Habibullah, were unhappy with Amanullah'sextensive religious reforms.

Conventional wisdom holds that the tribal revolt that overthrew Amanullahgrew out of opposition to his reform program, although those people mostaffected by his reforms were urban dwellers not universally opposed to hispolicies, rather than the tribes. Nevertheless, the king had managed to alienatereligious leaders and army members.

The unraveling began, however, when Shinwari Pashtun tribesmen revolted inJalalabad in November 1928. When tribal forces advanced on the capital, many ofthe king's troops deserted. Amanullah faced another threat as well: in additionto the Pashtun tribes, forces led by a Tajik tribesman were moving toward Kabulfrom the north. In January 1929, Amanullah abdicated the throne to his oldestbrother, Inayatullah, who ruled for only three days before escaping into exilein India. Amanullah's efforts to recover power by leading a small, ill-equippedforce toward Kabul failed. The deposed king crossed the border into India andwent into exile in Italy. He died in Zurich in 1960.

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