|Date of birth||1915|
|Function/Grade||Ex-King of Afghanistan|
|History and Biodata||
Zahir Shah was an ethnic Pashtun who was born on October 15, 1914, in Kabul, Afghanistan. He was the son of Mohammed Nadir Shah, a senior member of the Barakzai royal family and commander in chief of the Afghan army under former king Amanullah Khan. Nadir Shah assumed the throne after the execution of Habibullah Ghazi on 10 October 1929. Mohammed Zahir's father, son of Sardar Mohammad Yusuf Khan, was born in Dehradun, British India, his family having been exiled following the second Anglo-Afghan war. Nadir Shah was a descendant of Sardar Sultan Mohammed Khan Telai, half-brother of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan. His grandfather Mohammad Yahya Khan (father in law of Amir Yaqub Khan) was in charge of the negotiations with the British leading to the Treaty of Gandamak. After the British invasion following the killing of Sir Louis Cavagnari in 1879, Yaqub Khan, Yahya Khan and his sons, Princes Mohammad Yusuf Khan and Mohammad Asef Khan, were seized by the British and transferred under custody to the British Raj, where they forcibly remained until the two princes were invited back to Afghanistan by Emir Abdur Rahman Khan in the last year of his reign (1901). During the reign of Amir Habibullah they received the title of Companions of the King (Musahiban).
Zahir Shah was educated in a special class for princes at Habibia High School in Kabul. He continued his education in France where his father had been sent as a diplomatic envoy, studying at the Pasteur Institute and the University of Montpellier. When he returned to Afghanistan he helped his father and uncles restore order and reassert government control during a period of lawlessness in the country. He was later enrolled at an Infantry School and appointed a privy counsellor. Zahir Shah served in the government positions of deputy war minister and minister of education. Zahir Shah was fluent in Persian (Dari), and French, but he did not understand or speak Pushto, like most Royals at that time.
Zahir Khan was proclaimed King (Shah) on 8 November 1933 at the age of 19, after the assassination of his father Mohammed Nadir Shah. Following his ascension to the throne he was given the regnal title "He who puts his trust in God, follower of the firm religion of Islam". For the first thirty years he did not effectively rule, ceding power to his paternal uncles, Sardar Mohammad Hashim Khan and Sardar Shah Mahmud Khan. This period fostered a growth in Afghanistan's relations with the international community as in 1934, Afghanistan joined the League of Nations while also receiving formal recognition from the United States. Throughout the 1930s, agreements on foreign assistance and trade had been reached with many countries, most notably Germany, Italy, and Japan.
Zahir Shah provided aid, weapons and Afghan fighters to the Uighur and Kirghiz Muslim rebels who had established the First East Turkestan Republic. The aid was not capable of saving the First East Turkestan Republic, as the Afghan, Uighur and Kirghiz forces were defeated in 1934 by the Chinese Muslim 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) led by General Ma Zhancang at the Battle of Kashgar and Battle of Yarkand. All the Afghan volunteers were killed by the Chinese Muslim troops, who then abolished the First East Turkestan Republic, and reestablished Chinese government control over the area.
Following the end of the Second World War, Zahir Shah recognised the need for the modernisation of Afghanistan and recruited a number of foreign advisers to assist with the process. During this period Afghanistan's first modern university was founded. During his reign a number of potential advances and reforms were derailed as a result of factionalism and political infighting.
Zahir Shah was able to govern on his own in 1963 and despite the factionalism and political infighting a new constitution was introduced in 1964 which turned Afghanistan into a modern democratic state by introducing free elections, a parliament, civil rights, women's rights and universal suffrage.
By the time he returned to Afghanistan in the twenty-first century, his rule was characterized by a lengthy span of peace, but with no significant progress
In 1973, while Mohammed Zahir Shah was in Italy undergoing eye surgery as well as therapy for lumbago, his cousin and former Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan staged a coup d'état and established a republican government. As a former prime minister, Daoud Khan had been forced to resign by Zahir Shah a decade earlier. In the August following this coup, Zahir Shah abdicated rather than risk an all-out civil war.
Zahir Shah lived in exile in Italy for twenty-nine years in a modest four-bedroom villa in the affluent community of Olgiata on Via Cassia, north of the city of Rome where he spent his time playing golf and chess, and tending to his garden. He was barred from returning to Afghanistan during Soviet-backed Communist rule in the late 1970s. In 1983 during the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Zahir Shah was cautiously involved in plans to head a government in exile. Ultimately these plans failed because he could not reach a consensus with the powerful Islamist factions.
In 1991, Zahir Shah survived an attempt on his life by a knife-wielding assassin who pretended to be a Portuguese journalist.
In April 2002, while the country was under NATO occupation, Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan to open the Loya Jirga, which met in June 2002. After the fall of the Taliban, there were open calls for a return to the monarchy. Zahir Shah himself let it be known that he would accept whatever responsibility was placed on him by the Loya Jirga. However he was obliged to publicly step aside at the behest of the United States as many of delegates to the Loya Jirga were prepared to vote for Zahir Shah and block the US-backed Hamid Karzai. While he was prepared to become head of state he made it known that it would not necessarily be as monarch: "I will accept the responsibility of head of state if that is what the Loya Jirga demands of me, but I have no intention to restore the monarchy. I do not care about the title of king. The people call me Baba and I prefer this title." He was given the ceremonial title "Father of the Nation" in the current Constitution of Afghanistan symbolizing his role in Afghanistan's history as a nonpolitical symbol of national unity. The title of the 'Father of the Nation' dissolved with his death.
Hamid Karzai, a prominent figure from the Popalzai clan, became the president of Afghanistan and Zahir Shah's relatives and supporters were provided with key posts in the transitional government. Zahir Shah moved back into his old palace. In an October 2002 visit to France, he slipped in a bathroom, bruising his ribs, and on 21 June 2003, while in France for a medical check-up, he broke his femur.
On 3 February 2004, Zahir was flown from Kabul to New Delhi, India, for medical treatment after complaining of an intestinal problem. He was hospitalized for two weeks and remained in New Delhi under observation. On 18 May 2004, he was brought to a hospital in the United Arab Emirates because of nose bleeding caused by heat.
Zahir Shah attended the 7 December 2004 swearing in of Hamid Karzai as President of Afghanistan. In his final years, he was frail and required a microphone pinned to his collar so that his faint voice could be heard. In January 2007, Zahir was reported to be seriously ill and bedridden.
On 23 July 2007, he died in the compound of the presidential palace in Kabul after prolonged illness. His death was announced on national television by President Karzai. His funeral was held on 24 July. It began on the premises of the presidential palace, where political figures and dignitaries paid their respects; his coffin was then taken to a mosque before being moved to the royal mausoleum on Maranjan Hill.