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Exiled Afghan king wants to unite country

Rome meeting
Mohammed Zahir Shah greets Afghan opposition leaders in Rome.  

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The grandson of Afghanistan's exiled king Mohammed Zahir Shah says that the former monarch does not intend to return to Afghanistan to rule the country himself if the Taliban regime is toppled, but would agree to serve as unifying figurehead.

"His majesty would like to, as a symbolic figure, as a father figure, unite all the various different groups of Afghanistan to take Afghanistan out of this calamity," Prince Mostapha Zahir Shah told ABC's This Week Sunday.

He said the former king would serve in a "role defined by the people of Afghanistan in a very democratic matter."

The prince, who serves as the spokesman for the exiled Afghan royal family, also said that the Afghan opposition wants logistical support and supplies from the United States -- but is not asking for U.S. troops to directly overthrow the Taliban, which controls most of the country.

"This must be an intra-Afghan thing," said Prince Mostapha. "We believe that the Afghans can do the job but ... they probably would need the tools to do the job to combat terrorism."

The former monarch tells a U.S. congressional delegation he would be willing to head an interim government to replace the Taliban (September 30)

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Asked if the former king would make a direct appeal to the Afghan people to rise up against the Taliban, Prince Mostapha said the king would probably make a "very important statement" within the next 48 hours. He did not elaborate.

On Sunday, the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar accused the United States of trying to install a "puppet government" to replace the hardline Islamic regime, and warned "if (the king) tries to come back to Afghanistan, he has chosen his destruction."

The king and his family -- ousted in a 1973 coup while outside the country -- live in exile in Rome.

Prince Mostapha told ABC that the exiled monarch sent a letter to President Bush requesting assistance. He said he expects "another communication" to take place between the two.

The United States blames the Taliban for harboring terrorists, including suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who are believed to be behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

While it has threatened military action against the Taliban if they do not hand over suspected terrorists and dismantle terrorist training camps, the United States has not publicly stated its support of installing a new government in Afghanistan to replace the Taliban.

On Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card reiterated the U.S. policy against getting involved in creating a new Afghan government.

"We know that the Afghan people are being duped and used by the Taliban government right now," Card told Fox News Sunday. "And we'd like to see a more stable government for them. But we're not about nation-building here. We're about ridding the world of terrorists and making sure that no nation is a place where terrorists feel that they can get comfort and aid."

But an internal White House memo obtained by CNN indicated the United States is prepared to assist Afghan opposition groups.

"The Taliban do not represent the Afghan people, who never elected or chose the Taliban faction,'' said the memorandum summarizing the Bush administration policy and prepared jointly by key officials with the National Security Council and the State Department. "We do not want to choose who rules Afghanistan, but we will assist those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan, free of terrorism."

Open U.S. support for the Afghan opposition could create problems with neighboring Pakistan, which is the only country that still recognizes the Taliban and prefers a campaign aimed directly at bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

But Prince Mostapha sought to allay Pakistan's fears, telling ABC Sunday that the opposition wants to form a government that is "friendly to its neighbors," including Pakistan.

On Sunday, a delegation from the U.S. Congress met in Rome with the 87-year-old former king, as well as members of the opposition Northern Alliance, to discuss what type of government could replace the Taliban. The Northern Alliance controls parts of the country, including the northeast corner, and is actively fighting the Taliban.

"What we've got here is a country that the United States helped in the fight against Soviet imperialism and helped them free themselves," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California, a member of the delegation. "And then we walked away and provided them no guidance, in fact left them with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, who had their own agenda. And thus, we end up with these people living in abject poverty and a horrible situation."

"We owe it to them to help them overthrow the Taliban terrorist regime, which represses them, and we owe it to them to provide the humanitarian support afterward that can help build their country so it can be part of the world community," he said.


• Afghanistan Online
• Mohammad Zahir Shah

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