FATHER OF THE NATION
H.M. MOHAMED ZAHIR SHAH
Baba-e Milat (Father of the Nation)
Born in 1914, Mohamed Zahir Shah was educated in Kabul and in France.
He was proclaimed king in 1933 after his father, King Nadir Shah, was assassinated. The young king took the title, 'Confident in God, Follower of the Firm Religion of Islam'.
During the early years of his reign, power was actually exercised by his uncles, who ruled the country through the powerful office of Prime Minister. Throughout the Second World War and afterwards, the king helped steer the country on a path of non-alignment. In 1953, his cousin Mohamed Daoud became premier but Zahir Shah forced his resignation in 1963, after which he began to assert his own power.
In 1964, he promulgated reforms, which provided for elections, a Parliament and a free press. Members of the royal family were also prohibited from holding public office. Political parties were not explicitly legal but tolerated. Social reforms included major attempts to improve the status of women. Foreign aid flowed both from the east and the west, helping build roads and irrigation networks among other infrastructure projects. While the USA rejected overtures by the Afghan government in the 1950s, the Soviet Union stepped in to modernize the military. During Zahir Shah’s reign Afghanistan experienced a long period of peace.
During the early 1970s, however, Afghanistan was beset by drought, famine and a restive new generation of educated youth. It was during a trip to Europe in 1973 that Zahir Shah was overthrown. The coup was led by his cousin Mohamed Daoud, who changed the regime to a Republic and was proclaimed President.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Zahir Shah remained diplomatically active and interested in the affairs of Afghanistan. He favored a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and his political advisers gradually turned against the Taliban following initial contacts with the militia group. In the late 1990s his emissaries actively promoted the concept of a Loya Jirga to resolve the Afghan war.
Following September 11, after many years of conflict and the downfall of the Taliban, Afghan groups gathered under the auspices of the United Nations in Bonn, Germany, agreed to a political roadmap that called for a Loya Jirga and elections. Thereafter, H.M. Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan in May 2002 after 29 years in exile. The current Constitution gives him the title of Baba-e Milat (Father of the Nation). He now lives in a compound of the old Arg Palace in Kabul.
He has five sons and two daughters.