Ghazi Amir Amanullah Khan (June 1, 1892 – April 25, 1960) was the ruler of Afghanistan from 1919 to 1929. He led Afghanistan to independence from the United Kingdom, and his rule was marked by dramatic political and social changes.
Amanullah Khan was the son of the Amir Habibullah Khan. When Habibullah was assassinated on February 20, 1919, Amanullah was already the governor of Kabul and was in control of the army and the treasury. He quickly seized power, imprisoned any relatives with competing claims to the Throne, and gained the allegiance of most of the tribal leaders.
In the mean while Russia had recently undergone its Communist revolution, leading to strained relations between the country and the United Kingdom. Amanullah Khan recognized the opportunity to use the situation to gain Afghan independence. He led a surprise attack against the British on May 3, 1919, beginning the third Anglo-Afghan war which resulted in the Independence of Afghan Foreign Policy and Affairs.
After initial successes, the war quickly became a stalemate as the United Kingdom was still dealing with the costs of World War I. An armistice was reached in 1921, and Afghanistan formally became an independent nation.
Amanullah enjoyed popularity within Afghanistan and he used his influence to modernize the country with creating new cosmopolitan schools for both boys and girls around the country, overturned centuries-old traditions such a strict dress codes for women, created a new capital city and increased trade with Europe and Asia. He also worked for inscription of a modernist constitution that incorporated equal rights and individual freedoms. Unfortunately, this rapid modernization created a backlash and a reactionary uprising known as the Khost rebellion was suppressed in 1924.
At the time, Afghanistan’s foreign policy was primarily concerned with the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Each attempted to gain the favor of Afghanistan and foil attempts by the other power to gain influence in the region. This effect was inconsistent, but generally favorable for Afghanistan; Amanullah Khan took the opportunity and got several amount of funds and was even able to establish an air force consisting of donated Soviet planes.
After Amanullah traveled to Europe in late 1927, opposition to his rule increased. An uprising in Jalalabad culminated in a march to the capital and much of the army deserted rather than resist. The air force asked the King to give orders so that they could bombard the rebellions and stop the ongoing uprisings, but the honest King ignored it and said;
“These planes are for resistance against foreign incursions and may never be used to kill our own people and destroy our own country; I don’t want to be known as the king who sacrificed the country for his rule and government.”
Therefore, in early 1929, Amanullah abdicated and went into temporary exile to India from there he traveled to Europe and settled in Italy, and later to Switzerland.
Amanullah Khan died in Zurich, Switzerland in 1960 (May he RIP).
It’s also notable that very few of his many reforms were continued by his successors.