Officially, Afghanistan remained neutral during the Great War, while receiving subsidies from the British. Soon after the war, Afghanistan’s monarch, Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated while on a hunting trip. At the time of the assassination, his son, Amanullah Khan, was the governor of Kabul and was in control of the army and the treasury. He is suspected of having organized his father’s death. He seized power and imprisoned relatives with competing claims to the succession, and he won the allegiance of most of the tribal leaders. Amanullah Khan had other ambitions. On May 3, 1919, he led a surprise attack against the British on Afghanistan’s frontier with India — while the British were under pressure from unrest in India and suffering from the costs of the Great War.
Military skirmishes became a stalemate. In May 1921 Afghanistan and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Friendship, and in 1921 an armistice between Afghanistan and Britain was agreed to. Another agreement, the Treaty of Rawalpindi, had been signed on August 19, 1919, and amended on November 22, 1921, Britain recognizing Afghanistan’s independence and agreeing that the border of its empire in India would never extend past Khyber Pass. British subsidies to Afghanistan had stopped, and August 19 became Afghanistan’s Independence Day.
Amanullah was a popular ruler, and he used that popularity to attempt modernization. He created cosmopolitan schools for both boys and girls and overturned strict dress codes for women. He increased trade with Europe and Asia. Reaction against modernization produced the Khost Rebellion, which was suppressed in 1924. But conservative Muslim opposition remained. In late 1927 Amanullah traveled to Europe and in his absence opposition to his rule increased. An uprising in Jalalabad culminated in a march to Kabul. Many soldiers deserted the king. In 1929, Amanullah abdicated and thereafter remained in exile, in Italy and then in Switzerland.
In 1929 Amanullah’s cousin, Mohammed Nadir Shah, became king and quickly abolished most of Amanullah’s reforms. He tried to rebuild an army, but his forces remained weak vis-a-vis religious and tribal leaders. His rule was challenged by uprisings, and that year a Soviet force crossed the border in pursuit of an Uzbek leader whose forces had been harassing the Soviets from his sanctuary in Afghanistan. Nadir Shah’s army managed to drive the Uzbek army out of Afghanistan and to subdue most of the uprisings. In 1931 he promulgated a new constitution that instituted a royal oligarchy. He placated religious factions with a constitutional emphasis on orthodox Islamic principles. He also started road building. He imported what was then modern communications technology, a banking system, and he started long-range economic planning.
On November 8, 1933 while distributing awards at the end of a soccer game, the Nadir Shah was shot dead by a teenager named Abdul Khaliq. After being tortured, Khaliq, his friends, his mother, his father, his uncle, brother and his seven-year-old sister were hanged. Khaliq was cut into pieces starting from cutting of fingers, nose, ear, tongue until he bled to death.
Nadir Shah was succeeded by his 17-year-old son, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who was to reign during a relatively peaceful forty years, to 1973. As of June 2007 he is still living, in Kabul, the declared “Father of the Nation.”
“Amir Habibullah Khan, assassinated
Amanullah Khan, modernizer
Nadir Shah, assassinated