The King Reigns: The Last Decade of the Monarchy, 1963-73

The King Reigns: The Last Decade of the Monarchy, 1963-73

The new government both represented and sought change. Within two months,ordered an investigation into the abysmal conditions of Afghan prisons, andreached an agreement reestablishing diplomatic and trade relations withPakistan.

The single greatest achievement of the 1963-73 decade was the promulgation ofthe 1964 constitution. A mere two weeks after Daoud's resignation, the kingappointed a commission to draft a new constitution. In the spring of 1964, heordered the convening of a loya jirgah--a country-wide gathering that includedmembers of the National Assembly, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and theconstitutional commission. One hundred and seventy-six members were elected bythe provinces and thirty-four members were appointed directly by the king.Although the assemblage of 452 persons (including six women) that met inSeptember 1964 was composed primarily of officials who could be expected tosupport the royal line, the loya jirgah also included members elected fromaround the entire nation. On September 20, the document was signed by the 452members and ten days later, the kings signature transformed it into the newconstitution.

The constitution--and the deliberations that produced it--demonstratedseveral noteworthy changes in political thinking. It barred the royal family,other than the king, from participating in politics and government--a provisionthat was perceived as keeping Daoud out of politics. Individual rights werestrongly championed by provincial delegates over tribal ones. Conservativereligious members were persuaded to accept provisions they once consideredintolerably secular. Although a lengthy debate ensued over whether the word Afghanshould be used to denote all citizens of Afghanistan (many people regarded it asa reference only to Pashtuns), the loya jirgah agreed that this term shouldapply to all citizens. The constitution identified Islam as "the sacredreligion of Afghanistan," but it was still necessary to persuade manyconservative members that their religion had been enshrined in the constitution.Although Article 64 decreed that no law could be enacted that was"repugnant to the basic principles" of Islam, Article 69 defined lawsas a resolution passed by the houses of parliament and signed by the king, with shariato be used when no such law existed.

The constitution's provisions for an independent judiciary gave rise toheated debate among religious leaders, many of whom supported the existing legalsystem based on religion. Although religious judges were incorporated into thenew judicial system, the supremacy of secular law was established. The newconstitution provided for a constitutional monarchy, with a bicamerallegislature, but predominant power remained in the hands of the king.

Most observers described the 1965 elections as remarkably fair. The216-member Wolesi Jirgah, or the lower house of parliament, includedrepresentation not only by antiroyalists but also by the left and right of thepolitical spectrum. Included were supporters of the king, Pashtun nationalists,entrepreneurs and industrialists, political liberals, a small group of leftists,and conservative Muslim leaders still opposed to secularization. The kingnominated a new prime minister, Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, who quicklyestablished friendly relations with the students, while making it clear that hewas in charge and there were limits to student political activity.

On January 1, 1965, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) wasfounded. The PDPA, a communist party in fact if not in name, was established forthe primary purpose of gaining parliamentary seats. The PDPA was comprised of asmall group of men, followers of Nur Mohammad Taraki and Babrak Karmal, bothavowed Marxist-Leninists with a pro-Moscow orientation. The fact that four PDPAmembers won parliamentary seats suggests that government efforts to prevent thesuccess of its leftist opponents by intervening in the balloting werehalfhearted. Taraki, one of the four PDPA members elected to parliament in 1965,started the first major leftist newspaper, Khalq (Masses), which lastedlittle more than a month before being silenced by a government ban.

The Afghan political system remained suspended between democracy andmonarchy, although it was, in reality, much closer to the latter. Politicalparties continued to be prohibited because the king refused to sign legislationallowing them. Democracy nevertheless maintained a toehold in the lower house ofparliament where free criticism of government policies and personnel was aired.

In 1967, only a year and a half after its founding, the PDPA had split intoseveral factions. The two most important of these were the Khalq (Masses)faction headed by Taraki and the Parcham (Banner) faction headed by Karmal.Although the split was couched in ideological terms, it was largely due topersonality differences between Taraki and Karmal and to their respectivepreferences in organizing tactics. Taraki favored a Leninist-type party based onthe working class, while Karmal wanted a broad democratic front. Supporters ofKhalq were primarily Pashtuns from rural Afghanistan, while Parchamis tended tobe from urban areas, to come from a better socio-economic background thanKhalqis. Unlike the Khalqis, Parchamis included many non-Pashtuns who spoke Dari(Persian) in their ranks.

The monarchy did not treat both factions equally. Karmal's Parcham factionwas allowed to publish its own newspaper, Parcham, for more than a year(from March 1968 to July 1969) while the Khalq faction had its paper banned. Asa result, Khalq accused Parcham of having connections with the king and bitterlydenounced its rival as the "Royal Communist Party."

The 1969 parliamentary elections, when voter turnout was not much greaterthan in 1965 produced a legislative assembly essentially consistent with thereal population and distribution of power in the hinterland, in thatconservative landowners and businessmen predominated and many more non-Pashtunswere elected than in the previous legislature. Most of the urban liberals andall of the female delegates lost their seats. Few leftists remained in the newparliament, although Karmal and Hafizullah Amin had been elected from districtsin and near Kabul. Former prime minister Maiwandwal, a democratic socialist,lost his seat when the government selectively influenced the elections.

Between 1969 and 1973, instability ruled Afghan politics. The parliament waslethargic and deadlocked. Public dissatisfaction over the unstable governmentprompted growing political polarization as both the left and the right began toattract more members. Still personally popular, the king nevertheless came underincreasing criticism for not supporting his own prime ministers.

It was in this atmosphere of internal discontent and polarization andexternal shakiness that Daoud implemented the coup d'état he had been planningfor a year in response to the "anarchy and the anti-national attitude ofthe regime." While the king was out of the country for medical treatment,Daoud and a small military group seized power in an almost bloodless coup. Thestability Zahir Shah had sought through constitutionally sanctioned limiteddemocracy had not been achieved, and was a generally favorable response greetedDaoud's reemergence even though it meant the demise of the monarchy Ahmad ShahDurrani established in 1747.

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