Afghanistan in the 1930’s

By | December 16, 2021

From the beginning of 1929 the reformer king Amānullāh found himself facing the revolt of misoneist elements, encouraged by the class of religious leaders and led by a man of the people, Bačiah-i Saqqā, who became the emir Ḥabībullāh. The fates were uncertain.

At the end of February 1929, the future ruler, Moḥammed Nādir, arrived in Pēshāwar in British India. He was descended from the Emir Dōst Moḥammed on his father’s and mother’s side, and had married an aunt of Amānullāh. Born in 1883 in Dehra Dun in British India, where his family was exiled, he made contact with Indian and English culture, learning Urdu, Arabic and English. Repatriated in 1900, he had a brilliant military career: in 1911 he was general in chief of the Afghan army, in 1919 he won the campaign against England and became Minister of War. He left this office in 1923 for health reasons (tuberculosis) and court intrigues; it seems that Maḥmūd Ṭarzī had made him lose the favor of Amānullāh. Afghan minister in Paris in 1923-1926, he then retired to Nice.

With the assent of the British authorities of India, who wished for peace in Afghānistān, in the interest of their border area, and who probably concluded precise agreements with him and provided aid, Nādir Khān crossed the border in March, stating that wanting to carry out peacemaking work in favor of Amānullāh, and then stopped at Khōst, waiting with his brothers to gather troops among the tribes of the south and in the region of Gelālābād. For Afghanistan 2015, please check

At the beginning of April Amānullāh, after having spread a manifesto in defense of the reforms and of his own religious orthodoxy, moved from Qandahār to Kābul. Nādir Khān did not support him, and spoke of ousting Ḥabībullāh and calling a tribe congress to choose a new ruler. Having failed to draw the powerful Ghilzāi tribe from his own and take Ghaznah to continue on Kābul, Amānullāh, at the end of May, after a lost battle at Qal‛at-i Ghilzāi, fled to India, with his family.

There was also a third suitor for a short time: ‛AlāGhulām Nabī Khān, former Minister of War of Amānullāh, then Afghan Minister in Moscow, who in May had crossed the northern border, with 5000 Uzbeks and Turkmen enlisted in Soviet territory, and he had occupied Mazār-i Sherīf, capital of Afghan Turkestān, in the name of Amānullāh, with the intention of advancing on Tāshkurgān. But when Amānullāh gave up the struggle and went to India, Ghulām Nabī also withdrew.

In early June Ḥabībullāh occupied Qandahār. Meanwhile Nādir Khān continued to win the tribes, and at the end of June, drawn from his the Ghilzāi after defeating them, the movement on Kābul began; at the end of August he took Gardēz, on October 8 he occupied the capital. On September 15 the national assembly proclaimed him king (Shāh). Ḥabībullāh, fled to northern Afghānistān, was arrested at the end of October and executed in Kābul shortly thereafter. Nādir was recognized by the British government in November.

In the first months of his reign, Nādir repressed rebellions and subdued the last supporters of his predecessor; many were then and then executed. He entrusted the high offices of the state to relatives, starting with his numerous brothers, and in May 1930 he renewed the 1921 treaty with England. All the treaties concluded by Amānullāh were recognized by him. In October he inaugurated a new National Assembly of 106 members.

In 1931 Nādir waited to reorganize the state: he reconstituted the ministries of justice and education, abolished by Ḥabībullāh to do what grateful to the mullahs, he opened high schools and an institute of Arab sciences, established an elective council of ‛ ulam ā ‘, a advisory council, various courts. In June he concluded a treaty of neutrality and non-aggression with the USSR

On October 31 he proclaimed the new constitution, a remake of that of Amānullāh of 1923-24, derived in part from the complement to the Persian constitution of 1907: it replaces the old state advisory council with the national advisory assembly and the senate, inaugurated in November 1931.

In 1932 Nādir, taking up an ancient Amānullāh project, intended to establish a university in Dār el-Amān, the unfinished capital near Kābul. Some teachings were already working in 1933. Important building and road works began in 1932, including the road from Kābul to Badakhshān.

In December 1932 the Afghānistān concluded a treaty of friendship with the Irāq; and in the same year treaties with Japan and other states. In February 1933 there were uprisings near the Indian border, around Khōst, between the tribes of the Wazīrī and the Maḥsūd, repressed in March.

In the summer of 1933 a National Bank was founded in Kābul, with 30 million Afghan rupees of capital, the first to be created in the country to free it from the financial dominance of Indian money-changers. A project of monopoly of foreign trade was also studied, according to the example of Persia, by proportioning imports to exports of national products. The National Bank had a monopoly on the import of sugar.

But the kingdom of Nādir was undermined by the ancient grudges and hostilities of families and tribes that have always formed the web of Afghan history. While the brief regime of Ḥabībullāh had disappeared without a trace, except for a few brigand raids by the surviving gangs, from the N., the supporters of Amānullāh continued from time to time to give sign of life, and expulsions and condemnations followed.

That ‛Alā Ghulām Nabī, who in 1929 had tried to conquer Afghānistān from the North, and who had therefore retired to live in Berlin, belonged to the powerful house of the Chārkhī, khān of the Loghar valley, of the Yūsufzāi tribe, and from longtime rival of Nādir’s family. The new king had however reconciled with him and had appointed his brother minister in Berlin. In April 1931, on the occasion of the pilgrimage, Ghulām Nabī had met Amānullāh in Mecca; in October 1932 he had returned to Kābul, and there had been discovered his correspondence with tribes that were to rise to restore Amānullāh, with the help, it was said, of Russia. Judged by the Lōya Girgah, brother Ghulām Ṣiddīq Khān was shot on November 8, dismissed by the Berlin legation,

The first consequences of these episodes came in June 1933, when Moḥammed ‛Azīz Khān, brother of Nādir and new minister in Berlin, was murdered there by a student. On November 8, 1933, exactly one year after the end of Ghulām Nabī, followed the assassination of Nādir Shāh, killed in the royal palace during a distribution of prizes to students, certainly ‛Abd el-Khāliq, who seems to have been a familiar of Ghulām Nabī.

The next day, Crown Prince Moḥammed Ẓāhir, born in 1914, educated in Montpellier, was proclaimed king. Since then Afghānistān began a period of industrious recollection and commercial and cultural development. In the international political field the most important events were the admission into the League of Nations (September 1934), the accession to the non-aggression treaty between Persia, ‛Irāq and Turkey (February 1936), and the signing of a non-aggression pact with Russia (March 1936).

Foreign trade took place for the most part with Russia: in 1934 the agreement between the Afghan National Society and Soafghantorg for the exchange of Russian sugar for karakul skins. At the beginning of 1936 there was a significant increase in imports of Russian fabrics. A commercial mission of the Indian government visited Kābul in 1934, in the same year a Japanese commercial mission arrived there; in 1935 an exhibition of Japanese fabrics was opened in Kābul. In August 1934, the first international trade show took place in Kābul.

The government’s revenue (estimated at around 150 million Afghans) is largely sourced from customs. The monetary unit is the silver afghani, divided into 100 pulses and weighing 10 gr. 900 fine silver (one Indian rupee = 3.65 Afghanis). In May 1933, the National Bank of Afghānistān was established, with one third of the capital subscribed by the government, and with the privilege of issuing notes of up to 20 million Afghans. The first tickets were issued in November 1935 and are redeemable for silver.

Since then, the National Bank has become the main organ of Afghan commercial and financial development: it has a monopoly on precious metals, imports of oil, sugar and vehicles, foreign exchange; in the decade 1926-1936 he founded ten trading companies and two consortia, with 67 million Afghani rupees in total capital.

The development of communications is also noteworthy: in 1935 a German official was called to reorganize communications and transport; in 1936 the Afghānistān possessed 3000 km. of roads suitable for car traffic. In the spring of 1915 the Marconi Company undertook the construction of the radio-telegraph stations of Kābul and of four smaller cities.

Notable progress in education: in October 1934 the faculty of science was inaugurated in Kābul, in 1935 and 1936 Turkish technicians and professors were called to Afghānistān; the study of the Pashto language is growing more and more, newspapers reach seven, magazines nine. The organization of the Young Scouts progressed; Afghan athletes took part in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.

The development of irrigation, the construction of dams and mountain basins were important. Italian technicians have collaborated extensively in Afghānistān’s recent progress.

Afghanistan in the 1930's