Zahir Shah (October 1914, died 23 July 2007)
Once upon a time there was a king in Afghanistan, when his mountainous and poor kingdom was at peace with itself and the world. There was no holocaust, Taliban, Osama bin Laden, and suicide bombers. The subjects lived in fairytale happiness with no worries. Women had full access to education and they were not forced to cover themselves from head to toe. His land was a heavenly destination for Western tourists.
And the King. When on the throne he lived his life like the hedonist kings of the Arabian Nights. He had many pleasure gardens in the country. He loved poets, Sufi poetry, and Shakespeare’s history plays, especially Richard-III. But the skilful hunter of deer and quell, as his opponents say, had a weakness for women and Chars (Hashish).
Zahir Shah was born in Kabul and educated in France and ascended to the throne in 1933 when he was 19 year old after his father, Nadir Shah was assassinated in Kabul. Being still a raw young man, he remained a king in name only, for many years, and the country was run by his two uncles.
In 1964 he became the centre of modernisation, reform, and democracy in Afghanistan. He promulgated a new secular constitution in an Islamic context, granting emancipation of women, human right, and religious freedoms. The constitution also banned all members of the royal family from holding the offices of Prime Minister, cabinet members, parliament members, as well as justice of the Supreme Court. This prohibition might have been introduced to make his rule safe from a potential rival in his family. In the 1950s and 1960s he was one of the most democratic head of states in Asia.
The ex-king was very tolerant of dissent. Once a group of young left-leaning university students in Kabul brought a dog with its head shaved into a demonstration and presented it as Zahir-e-Kall (Zahir the bald). When the news reached him, he said with a grin: “Don’t worry! They are all my own children. They will return to their classes”. Zahir Shah was a committed Afghan nationalist and patriot. He said once to the visiting Richard Nixon, “It was there [Afghanistan] that Alexander the Great said, ‘I have no further world to conquer’”.
The magnificent monarch, however, made two deadly mistakes that in the end led his dynasty to its own demise. His government, especially his army, was turned into a cockpit of the pro-Moscow Marxists-Leninist party, and politically he remained in the Soviet orbit. Such dependence, during the Cold War on Russia, distanced his country from the West to the extent that in the US media in the 1960s, the word “Afghanistanism” was used as a metaphor for a distant land in the world. This might have been a result of the king’s frustration with the US for the latter always preferred to throw Afghanistan in the Soviet basket in order to destroy the communist empire in Afghanistan. In the 1930s, there was a perception in the US that Afghanistan had the potential to become a mousetrap for the Russian empire.
His second error was his reluctance to formalise the formation of political parties, despite it being granted in the new constitution. This offered the leftist, especially pro-Moscow communists to flourish their propaganda, supported and financed by the Soviet Union. The only anticommunist publisher of a newspaper in Kabul who for the first time began to run articles on the evils, oppression, and injustice in the old Soviet Union and its East European satellites was killed in September 1972 by “assassins travelling in a Soviet jeep and firing Soviet weapons”.
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
Less than a year later when Zahir Shah was enjoying sand baths in an Italian beach, his cousin and brother-in-law, Prince Daoud, in association with pro-Soviet communists, deposed Zahir Shah in a bloodless coup. The ambitious and pro-communist Daoud known among the Western diplomats as Red Prince, proclaimed republic but virtually wrote off all the democratic freedoms of Zahir Shah’s era. Daoud himself was killed in a bloody military coup by the very communist apparatchiks incubated under his patronage. The communists slaughtered dozens of members of the royal family.
Both mistakes were largely made because the Shah forgot the advice of his predecessor, Amir Abdurrahman Khan who once said, “Though my soul will go to God, my spirit will remain in Afghanistan. My last words to you my son and successors are: Never trust the Russians.”
Zahir Shah’s fall was not only the fall of his dynasty but the portent of the endless tragedy in waiting for his country. A year later the communist coup paved the way for the Russian genocidal occupation. A decade later, the Russian’s defeat and departure from Afghanistan, and the loss of one and a half million Afghans didn’t bring liberty and peace. Upon the toppling of the communist regime in 1992, the warlords and Islamist militants entered Kabul and avenged themselves upon the city and its tortured inhabitants with murder, pillage, rape, and destruction. Then the Taliban ushered in a galloping medieval theocracy, philistinism, and the terrorism of Osama bin Laden that reduced Afghanistan to the land of the dead.
Since he was deposed in 1973, the ex-king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, has always been in the full glare of the world’s politics. During his 28 years of Roman exile, the quite, peaceful and charismatic king kept his subjects dreaming for his return to the throne in Kabul. With the Russian occupation in 1978 the silent majority of Afghanistan wanted the exiled king to lead the surging anti-Russian resistance for freedom. But Pakistan prevented this and it gave the leadership of the national resistance a bunch of most anti-Western religious parties. Billions of dollars were pumped through the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to the violent radical Islamists. The bitter irony was the more anti-Western you were, the greater your share of western money and weapons. The West is now reaping what Pakistani military sowed for its vested interests in Afghanistan.
Zahir Shah was at the top of the Pakistani black list, mainly for his support of the Pashtunistan cause, the Pashtun nationalist and separatist movement in Pakistan’s nameless province, bearing still its colonial name of the North-Western Frontier province. In the 1980s, many royalist intellectuals and supporters of Zahir Shah were murdered in Pakistan by the radical Islamists and the supervision of the Pakistani intelligence agency. In 1991, he himself was attacked in his residence in Rome by a knife-wielding assassin posing as a Portuguese journalist. Thus, Zahir Shah’s activities were limited to diplomatic efforts in the West, giving statements and interviews against the atrocities of the Russian occupation and the following civil war.
During his 28 years in exile, he shared the tears and traumas of his country, during which time his country was virtually ruled by foreign agents. For much of this time, Zahir Shah remained a chessboard king in many ways. In 2002, when the US-led forces squeezed the Taliban out of Kabul, Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan. The Afghans expected him back on the throne, but this time the US and the ruling warlords belonging to the Afghan ethnic minorities stood in his way. For they didn’t want restoration of the old Pashtun dynasty. Instead the Shah was given the constitutional title of “Father of the Nation”. Zahir Shah was a patriot and Afghan nationalist who said upon his arrival at Kabul, “When I saw the mountains of my country, my people, my friends— what is better than this?”
The US’s so-called Afghan Mr Fixit, Zalmai Khalilzad handpicked Karzai as president of Afghanistan and the Shah remained in the closet for the next six years, being used as a pawn for future use if the circumstances demanded it. The US probably didn’t want to see him in throne for fear of Iran, Russia, and Pakistan, who had an axe to grind. They violently opposed the return of the Shah, each for their own interest in Afghanistan. Iran saw Zahir Shah as the ghost of Iran’s deposed monarchy, Russia didn’t want to hurt its proxy, the warlords of the Northern Alliance, and Pakistan saw in the King the rebirth of Pashtun nationalism.
The peaceful king was born into a civil war while his family lied in exile in India, and returned to Afghanistan when he was a kid. “When we were kids our family used to live in a single room that was too long. When one began to cough all would cough, and if one fell ill all would fall ill. At elementary school in Kabul, our teacher used to beat us with rulers. When young I tried to learn Sitar but failed,” he remembers of his childhood in an interview to the BBC.
In Afghanistan writing biographies was a forgotten genre even for a king. However his subjects remember more of his life stories than himself. Some of the stories go like this: He was once driving past a busy street in Kabul when he saw a public water tap had been left open, he stopped and from his Chevrolet window asked a person to close the tape and advised that it was not wise to leave water going down the street. The young tailor’s apprentice who knew he was the king shouted: “you are drinking the blood of a thousand poor people, it is better to stop that”. The king slowly drove past.
Watching all this, the tailor stormed out of his shop and began to beat the rude folk black and blue while crying: “What have you done? What will happen to us now?” A few weeks later, the young man recovered from his wounds and the king forgot everything.
Another time a man was sentenced to death in Kandahar for killing someone’s brother. According to Islamic law if the closest person to a murdered victim pardons the accused, he can be saved from execution. The king took his hat off to the man and begged for the convict to be pardoned. But the vengeful man refused.
Zahir Shah was married to Lady Humaira when he was 16 at a time when the entire country was suffering from the nine-month rule of Amir Habibullah, known as Bacha-e-Saqa (Son of water carrier), a highway man and a warlord. In an interview, the king is reminded of the young age at which he was married, “It was a very hard time; everyone in the royal family had been in fear of the fate of his young teenage daughter, because Saqa wanted to marry someone from the royal family. So everyone was willing to marry his daughter blindfully to any one except the criminal ruler. This was the reason that Humaira his queen become mine, otherwise she couldn’t have been mine”.
Even at 93 years of age he has never gone gaga. His life style was modest, often dressing in Western suits and smart ties. Zahir Shah’s staunch support for the American invasion of Afghanistan damaged his popularity and it may be very hard for his supporters to distinguish him from Mr Karzai and other pro-American warlords.
Zahir Shah’s long life echoes several ages of joy and depression in the Afghan psyche. His life was a full circle. It began with the agonies of the British colonial invasion, and then come the joys of independence; this is replaced by the tragedy of the Russian invasion. The circle is closed with his death when the Anglo-American soldiers and guns are roaring in Afghanistan. And no one knows what tragi-comic destiny the future has in store for the country ruled for forty years by the late Zahir Shah.
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