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Afghanistan's past and future leaders meet

Alessio Vinci  

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The man who will lead Afghanistan away from Taliban rule met Tuesday in Rome with Afghanistan's former king, in exile since 1973.

Hamid Karzai, 46, leader of the Pashtun Popalzai tribe, was named to head the interim administration that is to rule Afghanistan for six months and prepare the way for a transitional government to take power for the following two years.

The former king, Zahir Shah, 87, is to return home within months to open a grand council to map out the country's future as part of a United Nations-sponsored peace plan.

CNN's Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci spoke by phone with anchor Judy Woodruff about what the two leaders may discuss. ANCHOR JUDY WOODRUFF: Hello, Alessio. I should say good evening, because it is nighttime where you are.

ALESSIO VINCI: It is nighttime and it is very cold here in Rome today, Judy. And that man who will lead the administration, Hamid Karzai, and the former king are meeting as we speak inside a villa just outside of the city center in Rome. And the two are likely discussing plans for that interim administration, which Mr. Karzai will lead beginning this coming Saturday.

CNN's Alessio Vinci reports the former Afghan king will return to Afghanistan to convene an emergency national assembly of tribal leaders (December 18)

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But this visit to Rome is particularly important because it will pave the way for the return of the former king to Afghanistan, after spending 23 years in exile here. An aide to the king told me earlier today that the monarch will be back in Kabul before the end of March next year.

The former king has an important role to play in that country. He is considered a unifying figure and a man many Afghan people respect. And Mr. Karzai will certainly need such a personality in Afghanistan after more than two decades of civil war. The former king has made clear he is not going to restore a monarchy in Afghanistan.

He will, however, have the institutional role of convening a national assembly of tribal leaders or leaders, also known in Afghanistan as Loya Jirga, which is a body in charge of setting up a broad-based transitional administration until elections will be called -- perhaps in two years time.

In the meantime, Mr. Karzai will lead a provisional administration for the next six months. Security is the main issue for now, and that is why the international community will send to the capital, Kabul, a peacekeeping force to help Karzai's administration maintain peace and stability there. The first members of that force may begin to arrive an as early as the end of this week. And a contingent of some 600 Italian soldiers will arrive just after Christmas.

WOODRUFF: I believe I read that Hamid Karzai and the exiled king had been in touch before -- that they perhaps had a longstanding relationship. They had worked together in the past. Do we know very much about how familiar they are with one another?

VINCI: Well, they are pretty familiar. Actually, the family of Hamid Karzai was very close to the former king. And I do believe the father of Mr. Karzai was also a part of the political administration there during the king's time in power there in Afghanistan. I also know that Mr. Karzai has come to Rome several times prior to the September 11 attacks to try to organize this assembly of elder leaders that would have replaced (the gogovernmentif the Taliban were to fall from power.

So the two leaders have been in touch for quite some time. And this is the first time Mr. Karzai has come to Rome since the September 11 attacks. The two men are very familiar with each other.


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