United Press International

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February 5, 2002
Aged Afghan king quiet but in the wings
UPI SpecialCorrespondent
    ROME --Advisers to exiled Afghan King Mohammed Zahir Shah say the 87-year-old monarch
    is keeping a low profile in an effort to focus the world's attention on the interim government
    led by his ally Hamid Karzai.

    Instead, Zahir Shah is preparing for his long-awaited return to his homeland next month to
    call the traditional loya jirga council, members of the king's inner circle have told United
    Press International. He is content to stay out of the spotlight -- at least for the time being.

    The former king "has given all of his support to the government of Hamid Karzai," one key
    aide, who asked not to be named, told UPI. "His majesty wishes to do nothing that would
    diminish or distract attention away from that government."

    When pressed, advisers conveyed opinions about recent developments concerning
    Afghanistan, most notably concerning prisoners held at the U.S. military base in Cuba, a
    subject that prompted one aide to remark, "His Majesty sincerely hopes that the prisoners
    (in Cuba) are being treated fairly."

    But the aides -- through whom Zahir Shah has almost invariably spoken to this point --
    declined to comment on whether Karzai's government should be extended beyond its
    current term of office. Karzai took the reins of power on Dec. 22. He is expected to lead
    Afghanistan until mid-year, when elections will be held to select a permanent government.

Before that can happen, however, the former monarch must call the loya jirga council, a gathering of Afghanistan's tribal leaders, which
will decide upon a framework for the new government.

Zahir Shah has said he does not want any power in the new government, but he instead sees himself as a sort of "father figure" to his
native country.

Zahir Shah "has always held the welfare of the Afghan people higher than any desire for power or prestige," one aide said.

That concern does not appear to have prompted the deposed monarch to discuss major issues of the day related to Afghanistan
however, such as whether the multinational peace keeping force currently in Kabul should have its mandate extended or expanded into
other cities, for example, or the treatment of Afghan prisoners in Cuba.

For the most part, advisors only comment that they have confidence Karzai is doing the best job possible under difficult circumstances.

Zahir Shah ruled Afghanistan for 40 years until he was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1973. He has lived in a villa near Rome ever

The Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington and the subsequent war in Afghanistan have thrust the aged former monarch into the
spotlight. His most important role so far has been in throwing his support behind the interim government led by the 46-year-old Karzai,
whose father was a friend of the former king.

But he will again play a central role when he returns to Afghanistan in March for the first time in nearly 29 years to officially call the council
of tribal leaders.
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King Mohammed Zahir Shah