World Coins

Last king of Afghanistan on uniface medal

The Research Desk column from the Sept. 12, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

The 76.7-millimeter uniface bronze medal shown is something of a mystery. It presents a high-relief facing bust of an intent-looking gentleman of mature years with no identification except for an ornate Tughra or royal signature placed against the right rim. 

Research reveals that the portrait is that of the last king of Afghanistan, Muhammad Zahir Shah (ruled 1933 to 1973), who ascended the throne on the assassination of his father, Muhammad Nadir Shah (ruled 1929 to 1933). Both were members of the Pashtun Barakzai dynasty, which began modernization of their multicultural land under ‘Abd ur-Rahman (ruled 1880 to 1901).

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Zahir Shah first reigned under the dominance of two senior uncles and never became an assertive monarch. He strove for modernization by degrees, introducing the 1964 constitution that included some recognition of women’s rights. Economic progress was slow, and in 1973 the king was overthrown by an ambitious cousin, Sardar Muhammad Daoud Khan, who proclaimed a republic with himself as president. 

Five years later, Daoud was overthrown and killed, ushering in an era of bloody strife and foreign intervention. Soviet invasion in 1979 and installation of communist government were resisted by Mujahiddin who then fought the subsequent seizure of power by the radical Islamist Taliban.

American military intervention drove the Taliban out of most of Afghanistan and a Loya Jirga or Grand National Assembly was convened in 2001 to finalize a new government led by Hamid Karzai.

The king returned from exile in Rome for the Loya Jirga, but that body failed to do the logical thing and restore the monarchy.

Instead Zahir Shah was declared “Father of the Nation” in the new constitution, retaining popularity, and national mourning followed his death at age 92 in July 2002. 

The medal’s artist, Haiderzad, has worked to strengthen appreciation of the arts in his war-torn land, initially through the Fine Arts faculty at Kabul University and by endowing the Haiderzad Museum of Modern Art in 2015.

As one-time director of the Afghanistan Mint, he has had extensive hands-on experience with coinage and the art of the medal. His foreign medal exhibitions included the highly successful exhibition of sculpture, paintings and medals at the United Nations in New York City in April 2008.

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