Parents: Mohammed Nadir Shah, king of Afghanistan, and Mah Parwar Begum
Date of Birth: 16 October 1914
Royal House: Barakzai
Spouse: Humaira Begum, daughter of Sardar Ahmad Shah Khan and Zarin Begum
Predecessor: Mohammed Nadir Shah
Reign: 1933 – 1973
Summary: An ethnic Persian, Zahir Shah was born in Kabul to Nadir Shah, the senior member of the royal family. Zahir's father gained the throne in 1929 when Habibullah Ghazi was executed. His father was a distant relative of the previous king, but his line had been exiled to British India until 1901 when Emir Abdur Rahman Khan, emir of Afghanistan at the time, invited the family back. Kabul had many royal princes of many different lines when Zahir was young, and he went to a special school just for them. After he finished, he traveled to France where his father was acting as a diplomatic envoy. When he returned in the late 1920s, he enrolled in an infantry school then was appointed a privy counselor under his father. He eventually served as deputy war minister and minister of education. His father was assassinated in 1933 and Zahir was chosen as the new king.
For the first three decades of his reign, he did little in the way of ruling. His uncles, Sardar Mohammad Hashim Khan and Sardar Shah Mahmud Khan, ruled in his stead as regents. During this time, Afghanistan joined the LEague of Nations and was recognized by the United States. The kingdom joined into trade agreements with the Axis powers throughout the 1930s. Afghanistan mostly remained out of World War II despite its Axis ties, and in the aftermath of the war, Zahir Shah attempted to modernize Afghanistan. He founded the first university but other major improvements failed due to political infighting and general factionalism in the government and between clans. In 1964, Zahir took direct control over the government and introduced a new constitution which granted free elections, a parliament, civil rights, women's rights, and universal suffrage. He remained the chief-of-state as a constitutional monarch. The next nine years remained stable, though little progress was made in modernizing Afghanistan. When Zahir Shah left for Italy in 1973 to undergo eye surgery, he did not yet know that his cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan, was going to stage a coup against his government. In August, Zahir Shah abdicated his throne in favour of a republican government in Afghanistan, desiring to avoid civil war.
Already in Italy, Zahir Shah moved into an apartment in Rome where he attended to his garden, and played golf and chess. The Soviet's backed the Afghan government soon after the coup and barred Zahir from returning from exile. When open war broke out in 1983, Zahir Shah attempted to form a government-in-exile, but factionalism ended that plan. The king finally returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after the Taliban Islamist government was overthrown in the wake of the US invasion. Many wished for a return to the monarchy of Zahir Shah, but the United States asked the former king to step out of politics. He returned to his former palace and many of his family members were granted important government posts in the transitional government. Beginning in 2002, Zahir Shah began to experience various injuries, including bruised ribs, a broken femur, intestinal problems, and nose bleed. By 2004 he could hardly speak and in 2007, he had become bedridden. Zahir Shah died in July of that year. He received a funerary procession from the presidential palace to a local mosque before being buried at the royal mausoleum, the last king of Afghanistan. His son, Ahmad Shah Khan, succeeded him as the former pretender to Afghanistan. He now lives in the United States and is well known for his poetry.
Date of Death: 23 July 2007
Successor: Ahmad Shah (as pretender)
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