Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Mohammed Zahir Shah

Mohammed Zahir Shah (born October 16, 1914) was the last King of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973. Following a coup d'état in 1973, he lived in exile in Italy for twenty-nine years. He is seen as a symbol of unity for Afghanistan, and has been given the title "Father of the Nation."

He instituted programs of political and economic modernization, ushering in a democratic legislature, education for women and other such changes. These reforms put him at odds with the religious militants who opposed him.

He refused to return as a puppet leader during Soviet-backed Communist rule in the late 1970s. He has remained aloof from the bloody feuds that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. However, critics contend that in Afghanistan's most difficult moments, he remained comfortably secluded in Italy and refused to speak out against the Taliban.

Other criticisms include his kindness toward India and his policy toward the Durand Line, in which he has favored the break off of northwest Pakistan into a separate Afghan ethnic homeland.

In April 2002, he returned to Afghanistan to open the Loya jirga scheduled for June 2002. He moved back into his old palace in central Kabul but renounced all claim to the throne.

While in France for a medical check-up, he broke his femur by slipping in a bathroom, June 21, 2003. Rumors of his death followed both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In an October 2002 visit to France, he had also slipped in a bathroom, bruising his ribs.

From a family of Pashtuns, the dominant Afghan ethnic group, he was also educated in the elite culture of Afghanistan's Persian-speaking minority, giving him access to both groups.

See the reigns of Nadir Shah and Zahir Shah for more detailed information on his rule.