Corridors of Power

THE ONCE AND (ALMOST) CURRENT KING -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai took time away from his country's growing problems earlier this week to report to parliament on King Zahir's improving condition following his hospitalization in India on Feb 4.

King who? After living in exile in Rome for 27 years, 92-year-old former King Zahir Shah returned to Kabul in 2002 following the defeat of the Taliban. But for U.S. republican sensitivities he might well have ended up as Afghanistan's restored monarch. In the loya jirga (tribal conference) that determined Afghanistan's political future, the idea of restoration had strong support. Older participants remembered Zahir Shah as the ruler who in the 1960s introduced a constitution of sorts before being deposed by his cousin in a bloodless coup while the king was in Europe. As a member of Afghanistan's Pashtun majority and a native Persian speaker, the king had credibility with the Pashto-speaking tribes of the south, and with Kabul's Persian-speaking elite.

Bush administration officials at the Kabul meeting discreetly blocked the pro-Zahir movement in favor of a presidency with their man Karzai as head of state. In a compromise designed to placate his supporters, the former monarch was designated "Father of the Nation" and took up residence in a former royal palace in Kabul.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.