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Pakistan asks ex-Afghan king to assist talks

Afghan king
Mohammed Zahir Shah, pictured here greeting Afghan opposition leaders, says he is willing to return to Afghanistan.  

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has urgently requested Afghanistan's former king to send one of his representatives to discuss Afghanistan's future political situation, the Italian foreign ministry said Thursday.

The former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who was meeting Thursday with a U.S. delegation, has not yet responded. Shah has been living in exile in Italy since being deposed in 1973.

Secretary of State Colin Powell sent senior adviser Richard Haass to Italy this week to meet with Zahir Shah.

Several senior Bush administration sources told CNN that Haass will outline a "futures program" possible for Afghanistan if the Taliban regime ends.

The officials said Haass would tell the deposed king that any new government needs to be friendly to Pakistan.

In that case, officials said, the United States would be ready to provide plenty of humanitarian and financial aid to help "reconstruct" Afghanistan, and it would work to get a predominantly Muslim international peacekeeping force into Afghanistan.

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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Administration officials told CNN that the United States wants to use the former Afghan king as a "rallying force" to bring together groups opposed to the Taliban, in Afghanistan and around the world.

The king told a U.S. congressional delegation last week he is "ready willing and able" to lead an interim government in Afghanistan.

Zahir Shah's grandson said the exiled monarch would not want to return to Afghanistan to rule the country or serve as king, just to be a "symbolic figure" to unite Afghans.

Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, recently warned against reinstating the former king or any form of government to replace the ruling regime. The king faces "his own destruction" if he comes back to Afghanistan, Omar said.

"The U.S. should let the Afghan people choose their own independence," Omar said. "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."

Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar warned on September 25 the outside world should not try to impose a proxy government on Afghanistan in place of the ruling Taliban.

In the past, Sattar said, "those who intervened in Afghanistan and tried to plot their own preferred leaders on Afghanistan paid a very high price for that blunder." Shah has been in exile in Rome since his ouster in 1973 in a coup that took place when the monarch was out of the country.

A succession of Soviet-backed leaders took power until the Soviet army invaded in December 1979, sparking a guerrilla war that ended with Soviet forces withdrawing in 1989.


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