The Shafiq Government: A Last Attempt at Reform

The Shafiq Government: A Last Attempt at Reform

At the end of 1972 Zahir Shah named a close protege, Muhammad Moussa Shafiq,to be his prime minister. Bright, ambitious and apparently given royalencouragement to energize the flagging constitutional system, Shafiq appeared tobreathe new life in the government during the first months of his term. Hecourted the legislature, giving time to testify before its committees and lobbyits senior officers. His cabinet was approved without opposition. The Jirgahpassed his two major legislative priorities, the Helmand Waters Treaty with Iranand authorization of an industrial development bank, which had languished inparliament for years. Shafiq opened his government to the press, providingsubstantive information on a daily basis. He did not introduce policyinnovations, concentrating on demonstrating that the political logjam that hadaccumulated during the constitutional period could be cleared, that opengovernment could work.

Shafiq also emphatically associated himself with the king, mostly through aflurry of press releases on their meetings and social engagements. Yet, in May,1973 a few days before the legislature approved the Helmand Treaty, in a publicspeech he expressed doubts about solving Afghanistan's problems. Indirectevidence suggests he was aware that he had lost Zahir Shah's support. The treatyhad generated criticism that the government had made concessions to Iran thatwould adversely affect Afghan farmers. It was an insinuation that affectedpopular opinion of the king.

Several weeks earlier a schedule for the third parliamentary elections hadbeen announced for late summer. It came with no reference to an approval by theking of the political parties bill which had long since passed the legislature.Shafiq had lobbied hard for approval of the bill. Through his highly public useof his office, he had positioned himself to campaign actively for legislatorswho had supported his programs. Availability of a party organization would havegreatly strengthened such an effort. With the king's refusal to act on the bill,Shafiq had good reason to believe that Zahir Shah had turned to other politicaloptions.

In July, 1973 the king took a vacation, partially for medical treatment, inItaly. While there he was ousted by his cousin, Daud, who made comfortablearrangements for his exile. Government would once again shift its prioritiestoward coercion.

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