Reign of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah
Reign of Mohammed Nadir Shah, 1929-1933
Nadir Shah quickly abolished most of Amanullah Khan's reforms, but despite his efforts to rebuild an army that had just
been engaged in suppressing a rebellion, the forces remained weak while the religious and tribal leaders grew strong. In 1930,
there were uprisings by the Shinwari Pashtuns as well as by a Tajik leader. The same year, a Soviet force
crossed the border in pursuit of an Uzbek leader whose forces had been harassing the Soviets from his sanctuary in Afghanistan.
He was driven back to the Soviet side by the Afghan army in April 1930, and by the end of 1931 most uprisings had been subdued.
Nadir Shah named a ten-member cabinet, consisting mostly of members of his family, and in September 1930 he called into
session a loya jirga of 286 which confirmed his accession to the throne. In 1931 the king promulgated a new constitution.
Despite its appearance as a constitutional monarchy, the document officially instituted a royal oligarchy, and popular participation
was merely an illusion.
Although Nadir Shah placated religious factions with a constitutional emphasis on orthodox denominational
principles, he also took steps to modernize Afghanistan in material ways, although far less obtrusively than his cousin Amanullah.
He improved road construction, especially the Great North Road through the Hindu Kush, and methods of communication. He forged
commercial links with the same foreign powers that Amanullah had established diplomatic relations with in the 1920s, and,
under the leadership of several prominent entrepreneurs, he initiated a banking system and long-range economic planning. Although
his efforts to improve the army did not bear fruit immediately, by the time of his death in 1933 Nadir Shah had created a
40,000-strong force from almost no national army at all. It is notable that Afghanistan's regeneration was carried out with
no external assistance whatsoever.
Nadir Shah's brief four year reign ended violently, but he nevertheless accomplished
a feat of which his great-great-uncle, Dost Mahommed Khan, would have been proud: he reunited a fragmented Afghanistan. Nadir
Shah was assassinated in 1933 by a young man whose family had been feuding with the king since his accession to power.
Reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah, 1933-1973
Mohammed Zahir Shah, Nadir Shah's son and successor, became Afghanistan's
final king. For his first thirty years on the throne, he accepted the tutelage of powerful advisers in the royal family, first
his uncles, later his cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan. And only in the last decade of his sovereignty did Zahir Shah rule as well
as reign unencumbered.
Zahir Shah and His Uncles, 1933-1953
Three of the four Musahiban brothers
survived Nadir Shah's death, and went on to exercise decisive influence over decision making during Zahir Shah's first twenty
years of reign. The eldest, Muhammad Hashim, who had been prime minister under the previous king, retained that post until
replaced by his youngest brother, Shah Mahmud in 1946.
Hashim put into effect the policies already orchestrated by his
brothers. Internal objectives of the new Afghan government focused on strengthening the army and shoring up the economy, including
transport and communications. Both goals required foreign assistance. Preferring not to involve the Soviet Union or Britain,
Hashim turned to Germany. By 1935 German experts and businessmen had set up factories and hydroelectric projects at the invitation
of the Afghan government. Smaller amounts of aid were also forthcoming from Japan and Italy.
Afghanistan joined the
League of Nations in 1934, the same year the United States officially recognized Afghanistan. The conclusion of
the Treaty of Saadabad with Iran, Iraq, and Turkey in 1937 reinforced Afghanistan's regional ties to neighboring Islamic States.
After the outbreak of World War II, the king proclaimed Afghan neutrality on August 17, 1940, but the Allies were unhappy
with the presence of a large group of German nondiplomatic personnel. In October British and Soviet governments demanded that
Afghanistan expel all nondiplomatic personnel from the Axis nations. Although the Afghan government considered this demand
insulting and illegitimate, it appeared to heed the example of Iran; Britain and the Soviet Union occupied Iran in August
1941 after the government ignored a similar demand. Afghanistan ordered nondiplomatic personnel from all belligerents to leave,
and a loya jirga called by the king supported his policy of absolute neutrality. As the war progressed, it provided larger
markets for Afghan agricultural produce (especially in India).
Shortly before the end of the war, Shah Mahmud replaced
his older brother as prime minister, ushering in a period of great change in both internal and external policies. Among other
things, he presided over the inauguration of the Helmand Valley Project, a cooperative irrigation venture drawing Afghanistan
into a closer relationship with the United States, which financed much of the work, He also oversaw the opening of relations
with the newly created state of Pakistan, which inherited the Pashtuns from the formerly British-ruled side of the Durand
Line. The Pashtuns (or Pakhtuns) sought an independent or semi-independent statehood, that would include the Pashto (or
Pakhtu) speakers within Pakistan. This issue would have a resounding impact on Afghan politics, as would Shah Mahmud's political
liberalization of the country.