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Former Afghan king offers to fill vacuum

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


ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Former Afghan king Mohammed Zahir Shah says he would be willing to lead an interim government in Afghanistan if the Taliban were removed from power.

Shah made his offer on Sunday at a meeting in Rome with a U.S. congressional delegation and members of the Afghan opposition Northern Alliance. The 86-year-old former monarch also revealed that groups opposed to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban have agreed to create an allied political and military structure.

"Our discussions with the king made it very clear that he is willing, ready and able to return to Afghanistan to serve at the head of an interim government -- the unifying factor in a government that would be open to everyone," said U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-California.

Rohrabacher did not indicate who the delegation would want to lead Afghanistan, if the Taliban were deposed.

A U.N. envoy who met with the king last weekend said he had no ambitions to return to power in Afghanistan, but believed he could play a role in forming a post-Taliban transitional government.

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Shah has been in exile in Rome since his ouster in 1973 in a coup that occurred while the monarch was outside the country. A succession of Soviet-backed leaders took power until Russia directly intervened in December 1979 and remained in Afghanistan for the next decade.

According to a statement issued on Friday by Shah, Taliban opponents have created a Supreme Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan. They have also created a "military structure with the participation of various resistance commanders and tribal elders and some professional army officers."

The military structure "will promptly begin its activities inside Afghanistan" and will "lay the foundation for a national security force," the statement said.

U.S. officials had an obligation to help Afghanistan overthrow the Taliban and rejoin the world community, Rohrabacher said.

"What we've got here is a country that the United States helped in the fight against Soviet imperialism and helped them free themselves, and then we walked away and provided them no guidance," he told CNN.

But Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister for the Northern Alliance, said the announcement of a unified opposition council around the ex-king "came as a surprise."

"We were not consulted about that, and this announcement came as a surprise to us," Abdullah said.

"There can be various options," he added. "We sent a delegation to go there and discuss various options, but we will not be part of a decision made behind the doors without consulting with us."

Rohrabacher said the wish in Afghanistan is the establishment of a government "that would be open to everyone" and the development of a prosperous country. After an interim period of maybe two years, an electoral process could be started, he said.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, warned against reinstating the former king or any form of government to replace the ruling regime.

"If (the king) tries to come back to Afghanistan, he has chosen his destruction," Omar told reporters in Kandahar on Sunday.

"The U.S. should let the Afghan people choose their own independence," he added. "A future puppet government supported by America may be able to take cities and airports, but never the minds and hearts of people in rural areas."



 
 
 
 


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