Reform, Popular Reaction, and Forced Abdication
Amanullah's domestic reforms were no less dramatic than his foreign
policy initiatives, but those reforms could not match his achievement
of complete, lasting independence. Mahmoud Beg Tarzi, Amanullah's
father-in-law, encouraged the monarch's interest in social and
political reform but urged that it be gradually built upon the
basis of a strong army and central government, as had occurred
in Turkey under Kemal Atatürk. Amanullah, however, was unwilling
to put off implementing his changes.
Amanullah's reforms touched on many areas of Afghan life. In
1921 he established an air force, albeit with only a few Soviet
planes and pilots; Afghan personnel later received training in
France, Italy, and Turkey. Although he came to power with army
support, Amanullah alienated many army personnel by reducing both
their pay and size of the forces and by altering recruiting patterns
to prevent tribal leaders from controlling who joined the service.
Amanullah's Turkish advisers suggested the king retire the older
officers, men who were set in their ways and might resist the
formation of a more professional army. Amanullah's minister of
war, General Muhammad Nadir Khan, a member of the Musahiban branch
of the royal family, opposed these changes, preferring instead
to recognize tribal sensitivities. The king rejected Nadir Khan's
advice and an anti-Turkish faction took root in the army; in 1924
Nadir Khan left the government to become ambassador to France.
If fully enacted, Amanullah's reforms would have totally transformed
Afghanistan. Most of his proposals, however, died with his abdication.
His transforming social and educational reforms included: adopting
the solar calendar, requiring Western dress in parts of Kabul
and elsewhere, discouraging the veiling and seclusion of women,
abolishing slavery and forced labor, introducing secular education
(for girls as well as boys); adult education classes and educating
nomads. His economic reforms included restructuring, reorganizing,
and rationalizing the entire tax structure, antismuggling and
anticorruption campaigns, a livestock census for taxation purposes,
the first budget (in 1922), implementing the metric system (which
did not take hold), establishing the Bank-i-Melli (National Bank)
in 1928, and introducing the afghani as the new unit of currency
The political and judicial reforms Amanuallah proposed were equally
radical for the time and included the creation of Afghanistan's
first constitution (in 1923), the guarantee of civil rights (first
by decree and later constitutionally), national registration and
identity cards for the citizenry, the establishment of a legislative
assembly, a court system to enforce new secular penal, civil,
and commercial codes, prohibition of blood money, and abolition
of subsidies and privileges for tribal chiefs and the royal family.
Although sharia (Islamic law) was to be the residual
source of law, it regained prominence after the Khost rebellion
of 1923-24. Religious leaders, who had gained influence under
Habibullah, were unhappy with Amanullah's extensive religious
Conventional wisdom holds that the tribal revolt that overthrew
Amanullah grew out of opposition to his reform program, although
those people most affected by his reforms were urban dwellers
not universally opposed to his policies, rather than the tribes.
Nevertheless, the king had managed to alienate religious leaders
and army members.
The unraveling began, however, when Shinwari Pashtun tribesmen
revolted in Jalalabad in November 1928. When tribal forces advanced
on the capital, many of the king's troops deserted. Amanullah
faced another threat as well: in addition to the Pashtun tribes,
forces led by a Tajik tribesman were moving toward Kabul from
the north. In January 1929, Amanullah abdicated the throne to
his oldest brother, Inayatullah, who ruled for only three days
before escaping into exile in India. Amanullah's efforts to recover
power by leading a small, ill-equipped force toward Kabul failed.
The deposed king crossed the border into India and went into exile
in Italy. He died in Zurich in 1960.
Data as of 1997