Few Afghan rulers before Amir Abdur Rahman had managed to die a natural death while still being in power - and after him no ruler has managed to do so. This fact illustrates not only that Abdur Rahman ruled the country with great political skill but also that he did it with so much repression that all opposition from the traditional power groups in the country over the years was rendered harmless. By the time of his death even the usual struggles over succession did not occur, and his son Habibullah could take over the throne without opposition. One of the reasons for this was no doubt because Amir Abdur Rahman had already secured allegience to his son's succession by arranging matrimonial alliances for Habibullah with leading families of the royal lineage (such as the Loynab and the Yahya Khel), as well as marrying him to a daughter of Sa' addin, the Khan-i cUlam (Chief Qazi).l

To a large extent, the eighteen years (1901-1919) of Amir Habibullah's reign saw a continuation of the policies of Abdur Rahman, in particular regarding foreign relations.2 However, Amir Habibullah gave the absolute monarchy a more human face and gained some initial popularity by red ucing the most barbarous methods of punishment (like abolishing the chah stah, i.e. the black well) and allowing the return of the families whom Amir Abdur Rahman had banished from the country, such as the Tarzis, the Musahiban and the Charkhis. Figure 9: Habibullah, Amlr 1901-19

The comparatively peaceful internal situation during Amir Habibullah's reign can no doubt be seen as the effects of Amir Abdur Rahman's very repressive policies; Habibullah was, so to speak, reaping the benefits of his father's military campaigns over twenty years against rebellious groups and tribes. This does not mean that political life in Afghanistan was at a standstill in this period; on the contrary. While Amir Abdur Rahman had singularly defined the ends and means of Afghan policy, many new ideas were now brewing up within the ruling elite, among whom the consolidation of the central state had brought about the formation of a civilian and military bureaucracy, in whose interests it was to develop the state apparatus and its functions further. This group in particular objected to the xenophobia and isolationism which had been cemented during the last couple of decades and which was seen as an inhibition to the development of the state and society. Amir Habibullah himself was somewhat influenced by these ideas and initiated some reforms with the aim of putting Afghanistan on a par with the rest of the world. In this sense, Amir Habibullah's reign can be seen as an interlude between two eras of Afghanistan's history: in many ways it was a continuation of the past, but it was also a period of realignments where new ideas were developing and taking root, thus signalling what was in stock for the future.