Friday, July 22, 2016

Mohammad Zahir Shah, Last Afghan King, Dies at 92 - The New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 23 — Mohammad Zahir Shah , the former king of Afghanistan, whose 40-year reign, which ended in 1973, was esteemed enough to earn him the title “father of the nation” in the current Constitution, died Monday in Kabul. He was 92.

President Hamid Karzai, a fellow Pashtun tribesman whom the king supported as Afghanistan moved toward democracy, announced the death on national TV. “With great sorrow, I inform my dear countrymen that his majesty Mohammad Zahir Shah bid farewell to the mortal world this morning at 5:45, and joined with the grace of God,” he said.

“Zahir Shah was beloved by many people,” said Abdul Hamid Mubarez, one of Afghanistan’s best-known journalists . “For them, he was a mixture of Afghan and Western culture. He was educated in France and had a chance to observe the democratic system there. He brought back some very progressive ideas.”

Born into one of two Pashtun lineages that had ruled Afghanistan for two centuries, Zahir was only 19 years old in November 1933 when his father, King Muhammad Nadir Shah, was killed before the young man’s eyes during an awards ceremony on the palace grounds in Kabul.

The prince ascended to the throne. But Zahir “reigned, but did not rule” for the next 20 years, ceding power to his paternal uncles, according to “Afghanistan,” a seminal work of history by Louis Dupree.

Zahir never did become a dynamic ruler, always seeming more like a gentleman farmer at home on his property with a new breed of milk cows or fresh plantings of strawberries. But he did assert himself in the 1960s, introducing a constitutional monarchy and advocating greater political tolerance. His changes included new rights for women in voting, education and the work force.

These changes, in a deeply traditional Islamic society, were not popular with everyone. But his years were characterized by a rare long period of peace. This tranquillity is recalled now with immense nostalgia. On the other hand, peace was not accompanied by prosperity, and the king was faulted for failing to develop the economy.

Zahir was overthrown in 1973 while traveling in Italy, getting medical treatments for eye problems and therapy for lumbago. His successor was a slighted cousin, Sardar Mohammad Daoud Khan , whom the king had fired as prime minister a decade earlier. Zahir abdicated the throne rather than start bloodshed. But Afghanistan’s problems were just beginning. - 

The deposed king took up residence in a villa on Via Cassia, a main thoroughfare leading north out of Rome. He played chess and took walks. He was sometimes seen sitting in a cafe sipping a cappuccino or browsing through titles in a second-hand bookstore. He rarely gave interviews, perhaps out of concern for his safety. In 1991, he was wounded, though not seriously, by a knife-wielding assailant who pretended to be a Portuguese journalist.

Zahir fathered eight children. Three sons and two daughters survive him. His wife, Homaira, whom he married in 1931, died in 2002, just as she was making final plans to leave Rome and rejoin her husband in the Afghanistan they had left behind.

Living so far from home, the deposed king, like so many other Afghan exiles, watched helplessly as his country was wrenched apart. - Read More at the NYT

Mohammad Zahir Shah, Last Afghan King, Dies at 92 - The New York ...

Former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah - Washington Post


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