Afghan Kings Since 1747

Ahmad Shah Durrani (1747-1772)
Also known with the last name Abdali, he was the first King of Afghanistan. In 1747, he was chosen as the supreme Chief of the Durrani tribe in a Loya Jirga, a traditional, consensus-building mechanism of influential leaders, and assumed the title Dur-re Durran (Pearl of Pearls). Being a charismatic leader, he consolidated the warring tribes within Afghanistan and formed one of the largest Muslim Empires in the second half of the 18th century. The Durrani Empire at its peak stretched from Delhi to Western Iran, and from Amu Darya (Oxus River) to the shores of the Arabian Sea. He was also a distinguished warrior-poet. He died 23 October 1772 and was buried in a tomb in Qandahar.


Amir Dost Mohammad Khan (1826-1839 & 1843-1863)
Founder of the Mohammadzai Dynasty, he ruled Afghanistan from 1826-1839 and from 1843-1863. His first term was interrupted by the first Anglo-Afghan War during which the British Colonialists in India installed Shah Shuja, a member of the Saddozai branch of the Durrani Dynasty, as the ruler of Afghanistan (1839-1842) for his second term. Amir Dost Mohammad Khan regained the throne of Afghanistan in 1843 and ruled for twenty consecutive years. Both periods of his rule were marked by intrigues within and outside Afghanistan for the control of the throne. Interference by neighboring countries and opposition to the Amir from various tribal-political centers in the country marked the period of his reign. Amir Dost Mohammad Khan died in 1863 in Herat and remains buried there.


Amir Sher Ali Khan (1863-1866 & 1868-1879)
Son of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan, he ruled Afghanistan from 1863-1866 and from 1868-1879. He is known to have established the first postal mail service in Afghanistan and died in 1879 in Mazar-e-Sharif, where he is buried. From 1866-1868, Sher Ali Khan's brothers, Amir Mohammad Afzal Khan and Amir Mohammad Azam Khan ruled Afghanistan.


Amir Abdul Rahman Khan (1880-1901)
The second Anglo-Afghan war, in which British troops were defeated for the second time, finally led to Britian's withdrawal in April 1881. In 1880 Abdul Rahman Khan, cousin of Amir Shir Ali Khan, returned from exile in Central Asia and proclaimed himself Amir of Kabul. During the reign of Amir Abdul Rahman, parts of Afghanistan were usurped by the British and Russian Empires and consequently, the current boundaries of Afghanistan were demarcated. In April 1885, Tzarist Russia seized the Panjdeh, an area north of the Oxus River. Subsequently, in 1893 the British Empire imposed the Durand Line on Afghanistan, which divided zones of responsibility for the maintenance of law and order between British India and the kingdom of Afghanistan. Afghanistan, therefore, although never dominated by a European imperial government, became a buffer between Czarist Russia and British India. Amir Abdul Rahman exerted his influence externally and his control internally over the various ethno-linguistic groups in Afghanistan, fighting some 20 small wars to convince them that a strong central government existed in Kabul. He cautiously introduced numerous administrative and technological reforms throughout the country, laying the foundation for a modern state. Abdul Rahman chose his eldest son, Habibullah Khan, to succeed the throne.


Amir Habibullah Khan (1901-1919)
King Habibullah's fascination with modernization led to the establishment of the Jabal-us-Saraj hydroelectric plant, north of Kabul. He invited numerous foreign technicians to help build modern factories and infrastructure, including roads for vehicles. He also brought golf to Kabul. The 19 th century bore the burden of the Afghan reclusive behavior as the competing empires sought to constantly slice up pieces of the Afghan land. However, the new King struck a balance which harmonized the interests of traditional tendencies and maintained peace amongst Afghanistan's competing neighbors. He also declared Afghan neutrality in WWI. Reconciliation was achieved at the Anglo-Russian Convention of St. Petersburg (1907) in which Russia declared "Afghanistan as outside the sphere of Russian influence" and Britain promised "neither to annex nor occupy any portion of Afghanistan or to interfere in the internal administration of the country."


King Amanullah Khan (1919-1929)
King Amanullah Khan began a new era in Afghanistan. First, he declared a war on the British to claim independence over foreign affairs. Second, he set forth on a long journey to Europe. More importantly, he introduced revolutionary reforms seeking to modernize the education, civil service, science and technology and communications sectors. Grandiose government structures, palaces, villas, triumphal arches, resort towns, and cafes were built around Kabul, in Darulaman and Paghman. He also promulgated decrees banning traditional clothes in favor of European dresscode. Unfortunately, he was early for his time and traditional forces and religious groups thwarted his pace of modernization. He was forced to relinquish power in order to avoid bloodshed in early 1929. Habibullah Kalakani took over Kabul in January 1929 and ruled for nine chaotic months, until General Nadir Shah retook power.


King Nadir Shah (1929-1933)
Hero of the Independence War, General Nadir gathered troops from the south and overthrew Habibullah Kalakani and soon introduced a new constitution in 1931. He brought in a strict central command, restored law and order, reorganized the army, reestablished schools, built hospitals, constructed new dams, began new industries, linked the south to the north with roads and maintained the balance of power between the British and the Russian empires. However, many Afghans were against establishing Afghanistan as a buffer state once again. Consequently, the King was killed by a young activist student on November 8, 1933.


King Mohammad Zahir Shah (1933-1973)
Mohammad Zahir Shah succeeded his father when he was only 19 years old. During his period, reforms in Afghanistan were introduced in a balanced pace. Afghanistan earned respect among the community of nations and joined the League of Nations in 1934. In the advent of WWII, the King declared neutrality. Afghanistan also became a member of the United Nations in 1946. In 1959, the voluntary shedding of the veil became a choice under a law. The Constitutional monarchy was approved in 1964 and 13 percent of the parliament were females. There were also numerous initiatives to modernize Afghanistan from small industries to telecommunications as well as hydroelectric plants. Major highways were established and Afghanistan was linked by air through Kabul Airport to various world capitals. However, in the advent of the Cold War, competing interests in the bi-polar world and proximity of the Soviet Union only worked to the detriment of Afghanistan. On July 17, 1973 while on tour in Europe, his cousin Sardar Mohammad Daoud, a former Prime Minister and advocate of faster reforms overthrew the monarchy with the help of the pro-Soviet military and established a republic. This provided the communists the opportunity to plan for a coup five years later and invite the Red Army to invade the country. After the demise of the Taliban in late 2001, and the successful Bonn Agreement, the King was invited back to Afghanistan in spring of 2002 and was granted the title of the "Father of the Nation." He currently resides in the Presidential Palace.