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Pakistan Seeks Talks with Afghan Ex-King Envoy - 2001-10-03


Italy says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has invited former Afghan King Mohammad Zahir Shah, who lives in exile in Rome, to send an envoy to Islamabad to discuss the future of Afghanistan.

The former king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, has been working with his country's opposition in an effort to form a new government that could replace the Taleban rulers.

Representatives from several Afghan opposition groups agreed this week to establish a broad-based popular movement for Afghanistan. The deal was clinched in Rome where the former king has been living in exile in a villa on the outskirts of the city for the past 28 years.

Mr. Zahir Shah was the last monarch of a 200-year-old Pashtun dynasty. Under his reign, Afghanistan enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity. But in 1973 he was ousted in a coup orchestrated by his cousin, as wrangling persisted between the country's tribal factions.

After years of civil war, many opponents of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban are hoping the former king can resolve the country's internal divisions. For the first time in 37 years an emergency "Lora Jirga" is to be convened soon. The "Lora Jirga" is a Grand Council of 120 representatives of Afghanistan's various ethnic groups that will select a new head of state and transitional government.

The former deputy foreign minister of Afghanistan, Ahmed Karzai, is expected to arrive in Rome Friday to meet with the former king and move the so-called "Rome process" forward.

Mr. Zahir Shah has said he has no desire to see his family returned to power. But he also made clear he is ready to return to Afghanistan if it serves the cause of peace and allows the people to decide their government in a democratic manner, with free elections.

The flurry of diplomatic activity has led to increased concerns about security in Rome. The United States has warned that "symbols of American capitalism in Italy may be targets of terrorist attacks." Italian authorities have significantly stepped up security at all "sensitive sites" since the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Former U.S. President George Bush, the father of the current president, arrived in Rome Wednesday on what has been described as a strictly private visit. He is to be received in a private audience on Thursday by Pope John Paul. The international crisis is likely to feature high in talks between the pope and the former U-S president.

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