Zahir Shah, Mohammad

(b. Oct. 15, 1914, Kabul, Afg.), king of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973, providing an era of stable government to his country.

The sons of Mohammed Nader Shah, Zahir Shah and his brothers reasserted central government control during a period of anarchy and banditry in the late 1920s. Zahir Shah came to the throne at the age of 19, after the assassination of his father in November 1933, having previously served as a Cabinet minister. For a number of years Zahir Shah remained in the background while his uncle Shah Mahmood Khan ran the government, but he asserted his power through the constitution of 1964, which established a constitutional monarchy and prohibited royal relatives from holding public office. 

Zahir Shah undertook a number of economic-development projects, including irrigation and highway construction, backed by foreign aid, largely from the United States and the Soviet Union. He was also able to maintain Afghanistan's neutral position in international politics. His reforms seemed to have little effect outside the Kabul area, however. In the early 1970s the country suffered drought and famine. Pashto tribes along the Pakistan border continued to press for autonomy, and the political structure in the capital was unable to deal with the country's economic problems. In a bloodless coup on July 17, 1973, Zahir Shah was deposed. The leader of the coup, Mohammad Daud Khan (the king's brother-in-law), proclaimed Afghanistan a republic with himself as its president. Zahir Shah formally abdicated on Aug. 24, 1973.


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