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Afghanistan in the 20th Century(1919 - 1979) 

Despite Afghanistan’s long history of warfare, in both ancient and modern times, the period from 1919-1979 is characterized one of the most peaceful times in the history of Afghanistan.

In 1919, after the Emir of Afghanistan, Habibullah Khan, was assassinated, his son, Amanullah took power. Amanullah instituted a large amount of radical reforms to help modernize Afghanistan and create a stronger unitary state. His first main goal was to establish full independence from Britain and he declared a jihad or religious war against Britain, starting the 3rd Anglo-Afghan War. By declaring this a religious war, Amanullah was able to gain full support from both political leaders and religious leaders. The war only lasted a month, and was ended with the Treaty of Rawalpindi. This treaty gave Afghanistan full sovereignty in its foreign affairs, but was vague about certain aspects of Afghanistan’s independence. Following the signing of the treaty, Amanullah quickly tried to establish ties with strong nations in order to gain support and recognition as an independent state. Soviet Russia was one of the first nations to reach out to Afghanistan, leading to strong relations between the two. Amanullah also instituted reforms in the political, legal and economic structures that were designed to lay strong foundations for future development. He also made several social reforms, giving women more rights in marriage and inheritance, outlawing child labor, and various welfare projects. Despite his attempts at reform, many of them did not fully take effect in Afghan society and many revolts broke out in protest of his reforms. Eventually, he was forced to abdicate the throne and eventually was exile. Although his reforms were widely protested and he was forced to abdicate, Amanullah was one of the most radical reformers Afghanistan had seen up to that point.

After the exile of Amanullah in 1929, Nadir Shan, a military leader, succeeded him as king. He was not as passionate about modernization or radical reform as Amanullah had been, and instead got rid of many of his reforms. He favored slow reforms and was able to eventually institute many similar reforms in a way that was less controversial. He was able to improve the economy through industrialization and reforming the national currency. He also favored a foreign policy based on neutrality, which allowed him to lessen many external pressures on Afghanistan. Nadir was able to establish domestic control and a fairly stabile regime, but he was assassinated in 1933. After his death, there was conflict over who would be the next king. Eventually, Nadir’s son, Zahir Shan, took power and ruled from 1933 to 1979.

Zahir Shan's reign was an era of relative stability and peace. He expanded foreign relations by joining the League of Nations in 1934 and eventually the United Nations after World War II. He also achieved some economic progress and helped to expand education in Afghanistan. During World War II, Afghanistan declared a strict neutrality policy that allowed them to stay out of the war. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union attempted to further its influence in Afghanistan with various non-aggression pacts and economic aid. In the 1960, the Afghan government decided to introduce and new democratic constitution and in 1964 Nadir signed it into effect. It included a bicameral parliament, as well as elections. This helped increase democratic ideals in government and increased participation in government.

 In 1973, General Mohammad Daoud Khan overthrew the monarchy in a coup and became the country’s first president. His goals were to centralize power, social and economic change, and encourage Afghan nationalism. He maintained Afghanistan’s policy of neutrality, but accepted aid from the Soviets to help finance the reforms. This increased the Soviet Unions influence in the region, as the Soviets were trying to counterbalance the American influence in the region. The Soviets were able to slowing influence Afghanistan and increase their presence in the region. In 1978, Daoud was killed in a Marxist coup and Taraki become the next President. His reign, however, was very short, and he was killed in a coup in 1979. In December of 1979, the Soviet Union decided to invade Afghanistan, beginning the conflicts that have continued to plague Afghanistan.

Ewans, Martin. Afghanistan. New York: Curson Press, 2001. Print
Saikal, Amia. Modern Afghanistan. New York: Tauris & Co Ltd, 2004. Print. 
Vogelsang, Willem. The Afghans. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. Print.