The Shafiq Government: A Last Attempt at Reform

Afghanistan Table of Contents

At the end of 1972 Zahir Shah named a close protege, Muhammad Moussa Shafiq, to be his prime minister. Bright, ambitious and apparently given royal encouragement to energize the flagging constitutional system, Shafiq appeared to breathe new life in the government during the first months of his term. He courted the legislature, giving time to testify before its committees and lobby its senior officers. His cabinet was approved without opposition. The Jirgah passed his two major legislative priorities, the Helmand Waters Treaty with Iran and authorization of an industrial development bank, which had languished in parliament for years. Shafiq opened his government to the press, providing substantive information on a daily basis. He did not introduce policy innovations, concentrating on demonstrating that the political logjam that had accumulated during the constitutional period could be cleared, that open government could work.

Shafiq also emphatically associated himself with the king, mostly through a flurry 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 public speech he expressed doubts about solving Afghanistan's problems. Indirect evidence suggests he was aware that he had lost Zahir Shah's support. The treaty had generated criticism that the government had made concessions to Iran that would adversely affect Afghan farmers. It was an insinuation that affected popular opinion of the king.

Several weeks earlier a schedule for the third parliamentary elections had been announced for late summer. It came with no reference to an approval by the king 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 use of his office, he had positioned himself to campaign actively for legislators who had supported his programs. Availability of a party organization would have greatly 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 political options.

In July, 1973 the king took a vacation, partially for medical treatment, in Italy. While there he was ousted by his cousin, Daud, who made comfortable arrangements for his exile. Government would once again shift its priorities toward coercion.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress