Afghanistan timeline 1971-1975

From Academic Kids

Afghanistan timeline

Spring and summer 1971

Political life in the capital is dominated by squabbles between the administration and the People's Council. The 1969 elections had returned assembly members who were for the most part quite unfamiliar with parliamentary methods and procedure, at least as laid down in the constitution. The final brush comes over a widely supported demand that questions concerning the administration be dealt with by the minister concerned at the time they are asked. This may not seem serious, but it follows a series of deliberate refusals to pass bills that the government regarded as essential. These refusals were based less on any difference over principles than on the rivalry between groups headed by individual parliamentarians, who, in the absence of political parties, formed cabals linked by a determination to promote local interests. To secure the passage of essential legislation, the king is obliged to intervene, with a threat to dissolve parliament.

May 17, 1971

Prime Minister Nur Ahmad Etemadi, after being continually frustrated in his efforts to modernize the administration and bring the country forward, resigns. He is persuaded to continue as head of the government until his successor, Abdul Zahir, who was ambassador in Rome, is confirmed as prime minister on June 9. Zahir makes earnest efforts to reach a good understanding with parliament; and when he presents his list of ministers to the king in July, he is able to put forward the general desire that the administration concentrate attention on the difficulties of low-income groups. The king gives an assurance that the wishes of the legislators will be respected.

August 1971

The government takes the unprecedented step of launching a worldwide appeal for food after the most serious drought in the country's history. The economic life of the country is severely affected; it is feared that almost three-quarters of the nation's sheep, the main meat staple, might have perished. Large numbers of people cross into Pakistan and Iran in search of food. The response, especially from Pakistan and Iran, is generous. The government undertakes a massive campaign of relief operations to deal with the emergency, but is hampered by the traditionally independent attitude of remote outlying areas.

September 1971

Afghanistan's ties with the Muslim world are strengthened by participation in the Islamic conference of foreign ministers that meets in Kabul.


Domestic politics are overshadowed by economic hardship resulting from the worst drought the country has ever experienced. The lack of rain over large areas in 1971 has decimated the sheep population, which constitute the principal source of protein for a meat-eating nation; food crops also suffered severely. The year 1972 brings little relief, and the flow of people into Pakistan and Iran in quest of food continues. Both these countries again respond generously to the government's appeal for external assistance, and later in the year UN agencies give substantial help. Even so, by the fall the situation in some provinces, particularly Ghor, becomes desperate. Some 50,000-100,000 people, many of them women and children, face starvation. At this juncture, the UN Children's Emergency Fund rushes food, medicine, and clothing to the distressed area, and many people who would otherwise have perished are kept alive. The king and his government work tirelessly to overcome the national emergency, but the country's resources are still limited, communication with many outlying regions is not easy, and effective relief work is handicapped by local traditions of autonomy. One bright spot is the growing importance of the tourist industry. Foreign travelers naturally follow the excellent roads, constructed mainly with Soviet and U.S. help, that link the major cities, and are little tempted to go beyond the direct overland route from Europe to India and Nepal, in which Afghanistan is an essential link. Thus they are little affected by the distress in the outlying areas, and the foreign exchange that they bring into the country proves invaluable to the government. In foreign affairs Afghanistan's traditional policy of neutrality is strictly observed, and relations with all its neighbours remain friendly. No attempt is made to take advantage of Pakistan's difficulties, but, at the same time, economic and cultural contacts with India continue.

September 25, 1972

Prime Minister Abdul Zahir tenders his resignation, although the national preoccupation with economic problems tended to lower the temperature of political life in the capital and he had been more successful than his predecessor in keeping on good terms with the People's Council and securing the passage of essential legislation. He gives as the reason for his resignation his inability to overcome unspecified difficulties that have hindered the success of the development program.

December 1972

After a massive vote of no confidence in the lower house of parliament, King Zahir Shah accepts the resignation of the government of Abdul Zahir, which had come under severe criticism for its alleged failure to cope with the emergency. The king appoints Mohammad Musa Shafiq to form a new administration which takes office later in the month. Shafiq had been prominent in shaping the constitution of 1964, which banned members of the royal family from public office, and had thereby brought to an end the quasi-dictatorship of Gen. Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan, the king's cousin and brother-in-law, who had virtually ruled Afghanistan from 1953 to 1963. The new prime minister sets to work to deal with the economic crisis, mobilizing young officials, students, and army officers into a relief corps to distribute the foreign aid that pours into the country from the U.S. and from international agencies. Even so, it is estimated that approximately 80,000 people have died of starvation before supplies could reach them.

Beginning of 1973

Afghanistan's internal situation is dominated by difficulties arising from three successive seasons of drought in the central and northern areas of the country. In Ghor province, the shortage is particularly bad; famine is widespread and there are many deaths from starvation. Although massive Soviet and U.S. aid programs, supplemented by less ambitious efforts sponsored by China, Britain, France, India, and other countries, have done much to improve roads, power supplies, irrigation, and other essential elements of an economic substructure on which future progress could be based, the gap that divides Kabul from the outlying and backward areas shows little signs of closing. In those parts of the country the authority of the central government remains minimal, and small notice is taken of the men selected for parliament. Thus, the capital tends to be a world of its own, where governments change, where unrest is chronic, and where the country finds almost its only link with the outside world.

July 1973

King Zahir Shah, whose personality has for many years ensured an element of continuity, absents himself in Rome for eye treatment. While he is out of the country, on July 17, Daud Khan, who has long resented his exclusion from power, takes advantage of some discontent over promotions in the armed forces, along with student unrest and resentment among the educated classes against unemployment, to depose the king in a virtually bloodless coup. Leftist military officers and civil servants of the Parcham ("Flag," or "Banner") Party, including Air Force Col. Abdul Qadir, assist in the overthrow. Daud Khan abolishes the constitution of 1964 and establishes the Republic of Afghanistan with himself as president as well as foreign minister. He announces his adherence to Afghanistan's traditional policy of nonalignment, but is an acknowledged friend of the Soviet Union and a firm supporter of secessionist movements in the Pashto-speaking areas of Pakistan, the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan - an outlook that seems likely to revive the friction with Pakistan that marked his earlier period of power. Zahir Shah formally abdicates on August 24, and remains in exile in Europe. Daud Khan attempts to introduce socioeconomic reforms, but gradually moves away from the socialist ideals his regime initially espoused.

September 20, 1973

Radio Kabul announces the discovery of an allegedly Pakistan-backed plot to overthrow the new regime. A number of civilians and high-ranking military personalities are arrested, including former prime minister Mohammad Hashim Maiwandwal, who is later reported to have hanged himself on October 1 while awaiting trial. Five defendants are subsequently condemned to death and executed on December 25, while others receive long terms of imprisonment. A second attempted coup is foiled in December. The Kabul press accuses Pakistan of fomenting these conspiracies, but no solid evidence for the accusation is forthcoming. In view of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's desire for friendly relations with Afghanistan, it seems more likely that the conspiracies were the products of domestic discontent.


Throughout the year Afghanistan continues to suffer from the effects of the shortage of rainfall that afflicted the northern and central areas during the preceding three years. Many of the affected areas are remote and difficult to reach, lying beyond the main lines of communication and the few good highways laid down by Soviet and U.S. engineers as part of the massive aid programs of their respective countries. Daud Khan and his cabinet in Kabul do their best to mount rescue operations with the help of aid from abroad, but in areas where the subsistence level remains low, even in the best of times, deaths from starvation can not be prevented. Inevitably, discontent over the failure of the new republican regime to cope with economic difficulties manifests itself in a number of areas. In the capital itself, the euphoria that followed the abolition of the monarchy in 1973 and the attendant hopes for the dawn of a more democratic era begin to pass away in the face of the president's masterful rule. Many who expected an improvement in their position, including members of the armed services and the central bureaucracy, find themselves disappointed. Nevertheless, the president's personal authority over the central government is never effectively challenged. He commands the loyalty of the bulk of the armed forces, and their efficiency, thanks to Soviet help in both training and the supply of sophisticated weaponry, is high. The central government is strong enough to enforce its will upon outlying areas should the occasion arise.

Beginning of June 1974

President Daud pays a three-day official visit to Moscow, during which he signs an extensive economic cooperation agreement with the Soviet Union. The close ties with the Soviet Union are not allowed to imperil Afghanistan's cherished and traditional neutrality, however. During the year Daud also concludes a cooperation agreement with China and forms a new link with Bangladesh, to which he promises assistance. Only with Pakistan are his relations difficult; he continues to support schemes for the creation of an independent Pakhtunistan and a new "Greater Baluchistan" that, if realized, would give Afghanistan a corridor through friendly territory to the coast of the Arabian Sea. His representatives raise these questions at numerous international gatherings, including the Islamic summit held at Lahore, Pakistan, early in the year, but they receive little or no encouragement. However, this in no way diminishes Daud's determination to persist with his plans.

Autumn 1974

It is announced that another attempt to overthrow the regime has been discovered and quashed; its leader has been executed and 11 participants imprisoned. Shortly afterward there is trouble in Takhar province, where the Muslim Brotherhood, which dislikes President Daud's secularizing policy, is very influential. The government is obliged to take stern action; 70 members of the brotherhood are arrested, along with the governor of the province, the revenue commissioner, and the superintendent of police, and all are brought to trial on charges of plotting against the state.


Domestically, many of the economic difficulties of the previous year continue in areas remote from the capital, with the result that the gap in living standards between Kabul and the more distant provinces widening. Under the energetic guidance of Daud Khan, considerable external help is secured for the construction of oil refineries, fertilizer factories, and various agricultural projects envisaged in the current five-year plan, both China and the Soviet Union having contributed interest-free loans and technical aid. There are no serious challenges to the president's authority, supported by a regular army equipped with Soviet weaponry, although some spasmodic discontent with the prevalent economic stringency finds expression during the year. In foreign affairs, the government adheres firmly to the traditional policy of accepting external aid but refusing entangling alliances. Improved terms are secured from the Soviet Union for the sale of Afghanistan's natural gas, but this does not prevent equally friendly relations with China. Pakistan's actions against insurgents in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province are bitterly criticized by the government and press in Kabul. The proscription by Pakistan of the National Awami Party, whose activities in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province were favoured by Afghanistan, further worsens relations between the two countries. Daud Khan's efforts to mobilize international opinion against Pakistan's action meets with a cool reception, however.

April 1975

Daud Khan, who tries to move away from Afghanistan's dependency on the Soviet Union, makes an official trip to Tehran.

September 1975

Daud Khan reshuffles his cabinet and ousts the Parcham ministers from his administration.

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