United Press International
News. Analysis. Insight.
April 17, 2002
Hopeful Karzai escorts Afghan king home
ROME -- Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai predicted that the return of the country's exiled King Mohammed Zahir Shah would start a
new era of stability in the war-torn country, and he brushed aside the security concerns that forced the 87-year-old former monarch to
postpone his trip to Kabul several times.
Karzai, speaking Wednesday after the last of a series of meetings with Italian government officials, also praised Italy's efforts to aid in
the rebuilding and security of Afghanistan. Earlier this year, Italy pledged aid and the use of Italian peacekeepers in Kabul.
"This is an extremely important day for Afghanistan and I am delighted to be returning to Kabul with His Majesty, Zahir Shah," Karzai said.
"The people of Afghanistan long to see their king and he longs to see them."
Karzai, Zahir Shah and six Afghan Cabinet ministers will return to Kabul from Rome amid extremely tight security later on Wednesday.
Italian officials said that as a gesture of good will, an Italian security force will guarantee the safety of Karzai and the former king on their
return trip and will continue to offer security protection for Zahir Shah for at least three months after he returns.
"Italy has a bond (with Zahir Shah) after his being in Italy for nearly three decades," an Italian Foreign Ministry official told United Press
International Wednesday. "We feel that assuring that he is safe both on his return to Afghanistan and while he establishes himself in
Kabul is an important contribution we can make."
The official said around "four dozen" special Carabinieri paramilitary police would be part of the security force, which will also be charged
with training Afghan replacements for when the Italian forces return home.
Zahir Shah has lived in Rome since 1973, when his 40-year reign ended in a bloodless coup that took place while he was traveling in
Italy. Soon after he was deposed, the country began to suffer under a series of dictatorial rulers and began a 23-year period of almost
constant war in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded.
On Wednesday, Karzai said that the nostalgia for Zahir Shah's peaceful reign gave the ex-king an important role to play in the new
"People look up to him," Karzai said. "I am pleased and honored that my government and the democratic process has such an
illustrious and important supporter."
The former king's only official duty will be to call the traditional loya jirga council, which will decide on the structure of Afghan elections
and the government that will run the country after Karzai's six-month tenure expires around mid-year.
But members of the former king's inner circle of advisors told UPI that the frail Zahir Shah is also eager to play a support role in the
rebuilding of the country.
"His majesty is excited at the prospect of seeing his country rise from more than two decades of war," said adviser Hamid Sidig, who
moved his operations from Rome to Kabul in January in order to pave the way for the ex-king's return. "He has a young man's voice ...
when he speaks about building a stable and prosperous Afghanistan for the future."
Aides previously told UPI that when the former king returns to Kabul it will be a permanent move. On Wednesday, they said that the plans
remain unchanged but that plans to sell the former king's villa outside Rome had been halted for the time being, given the uncertainty of
the situation in the country.
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