The first four chapters of The Kite Runner are set in Afghanistan during the rule of King Mohammed Zahir Shah, who ruled the nation for four decades. During the latter part of his reign, Afghanistan became a modern nation, marked by many political and social reforms, including advancements in women's rights. It became a democracy, holding free elections, and Afghanistan continued its alliance with the United States, of which Baba was particularly proud. The setting of a peaceful, thriving nation would change in the following chapters, when Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin and former prime minister, Mohammad Daoud Khan. Although Khan also made great strides to modernize the republic, renouncing the position of king (or shah), he later ran afoul of the Soviet Union, and he was eventually ousted in a Soviet-led coup.
The setting of the first four chapters serve to portray the innocence enjoyed by Amir and Hassan, and the power and prosperity attained by Baba. Kabul is a happy place, and Amir has few worries and none of the jealousies that will emerge in future chapters. After the coup d'etat, Amir's life changes. Although he wins the important kite-flying contest, his friendship with Hassan dissolves; soon after, Amir and Baba are forced to flee the Russian-held nation and begin a new life in California. This transition is not an easy one for Baba, who yearns for the powerful life he led during the first chapters of the novel.