The former king of Afghanistan has died aged 92. Since Afghanistan gained independence from Britain in 1919 it has been governed by nearly every system of government, including a monarchy, republic, theocracy and communist state.

Former king of Afghanistan dies aged 92

By staff and agencies
The Telegraph

The former king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who was credited with 40 years of relatively peaceful rule until his exile in 1973, has died aged 92.

Zahir Shah supported an end to the purdah

Zahir Shah came from a long line of ethnic Pashtun rulers but was exiled for nearly three decades in 1973 after reigning over one of the most tranquil periods in Afghanistan's turbulent history.

His last years as "Father of the Nation", an honourary title he ws given after the Taliban were toppled in 2001, were plagued by ill health.

He became king in 1933 after his father, king Nadir Shah, when he was shot dead at his side in 1933 by an unstable teenager at a school awards ceremony on the lawns of a Kabul palace.

Allowing his uncles to run the government, he eventually took full control in 1953, overseeing a cautious programme of modernisation.

During his reign a constitution was passed in 1964 that turned Afghanistan into a modern democracy with free elections, a parliament and civil rights.

He supported an end to purdah - the wearing of the veil - for women, used foreign cash to develop the country's infrastructure and managed to keep a balance between rival Soviet and Western interests.

But there were underlying problems. The king considered weak, nepotism was commonplace and the economy was faltering.

He kept a low profile after abdicating the throne while holidaying in Italy, after hearing that his cousin and former prime minister Mohammad Daud had staged a coup.

From Europe, Zahir Shah watched the 1979 Soviet invasion start a religious war, followed by a gruelling four years of civil conflict, ending when the Taliban seized power in 1996.

After the hardline extremists were ousted in 2001, Zahir Shah returned a few months later to a hero's welcome but a country in ruins.

Although it was hoped that he could fill a post-war vacuum and lead a Western-backed interim administration, Zahir Shah repeatedly said he had no desire to lead his country again.

"My sole aim is to serve the suffering people of Afghanistan," he said.

He and his wife had five sons and two daughters.