Afghan king's shrine neglected as city modernizes

Mon Feb 9, 2009 8:26am EST
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By Hamid Shalizi

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Jalalabad in east Afghanistan has new asphalt roads, traffic lights and a public park, but some residents say it is at the expense of historical treasures such as the tomb of an Afghan king and national hero.

The shrine of Amanullah Khan, one of Afghanistan's last monarchs and credited with liberating the country from British involvement in 1919, is in a large marble plaza, covered by a dome roof held up by blue columns in the heart of Jalalabad.

But his memorial has not been afforded the usual dignity expected of a revered king, as it is used as a trading spot for the city's firewood sellers and pakora makers, while others defecate on the footpath a few feet away.

"I think the garden shrine should look better as an entertainment site but we can't do the additional work ... it will lose its authenticity," Awrang Sameem, head of the cultural department of Nangarhar province, told Reuters.

Amanullah died in exile in Switzerland in 1960 after abdicating in 1929. He is buried at the shrine, alongside his wife, Soraya Tarzi, and his father whom he helped assassinate.

Amanullah is often described by Afghans as a modernizer inspired by his wife to improve women's rights in a deeply conservative society, but traditional Afghans who viewed his reforms as too Western rebelled against him.

"I agree the site should look greener and Afghan people have a great responsibility to respect their hero," Sameem said.

Some passersby outside the Bagh-e Amir Shaheed, which means garden of the martyred emir or king, had little knowledge of Amanullah.   Continued...