Afghanistan Table of Contents

Zahir Shah, Nadir Shan'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, 1933-53

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 jirgah 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.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress