Afghanistan mourns as last king dies at 92

The Baltimore Sun

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, died yesterday, plunging his battered country into mourning and inspiring a wave of wistful nostalgia for better days. He was 92.

Zahir Shah, an ineffectual yet beloved monarch, spent nearly three decades in genteel exile after being ousted in a palace coup in 1973.

He returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban, and although he played no significant political role, he served for many as an emblem of the country's yet-unrealized hopes for rebuilding.

The former king's death was announced by Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, a distant relative. He called the ex-monarch "the servant of his people, the friend of his people." After the fundamentalist Taliban was driven from power by U.S.-led forces, many Afghans hoped Zahir Shah once again would lead.

But Zahir Shah, by then frail and in his 80s, declined.

Nonetheless, he gave his blessing to Afghanistan's new constitution in 2004, which gave him the ceremonial title of "Father of the Nation." Karzai declared three days of mourning for the former king, whose body was to lie in state at a Kabul mosque.

During his reign, Afghanistan enjoyed a brief peace.

A cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan, overthrew him in 1973.

M. Karim Faiez and Laura King write for the Los Angeles Times.

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