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Former King Wants to Unite Afghanistan - 2001-10-01

The exiled former king of Afghanistan plans to make a major announcement soon on the situation in his country. Mohammad Zahir Shah is talking about returning home to lead a transitional government, if the ruling Taleban were removed.

The former king of Afghanistan has been living in exile in Rome since he was ousted from power in 1973. Now, in his late 80s, he is meeting with Afghan opposition leaders and American lawmakers to talk about the future.

He tells them he wants to see a broad-based coalition assume power in Afghanistan. His grandson and spokesman, Mustafa Zahir Shah, says the Afghan people want the former king to return.

"It is not the king who is pushing himself," he said. "It is the people who are calling him. Yes, he is 87 years old, but he has got the charisma, he has got the trust of the Afghan people. He certainly has the approval and the support of the Afghan people behind him."

During an appearance on American television, Mustafa Zahir Shah talked about the possibility all the factions opposed to the Taleban could come together. He told the ABC news program This Week that the time is right.

"I think we are at a critical juncture in the history of our country," he said. "And his majesty would like to - as a symbolic figure, as a father figure - unite all the various differing groups of Afghanistan, and take Afghanistan out of this calamity."

Mustafa Zahir Shah said his grandfather would not go back as a monarch, but would assume a role decided by the people of Afghanistan "in a democratic manner."

Critics, however, say the former monarch is too old and frail to lead. And Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has warned him not to meddle in Afghanistan's affairs. In a broadcast statement, Mullah Omar said the exiled King cannot rule the country with backing from the United States. He said Mohammad Zahir Shah should forget Afghanistan and live out his days in peace.

But Afghan opposition leaders say they are optimistic they can reach an agreement with the former king.

Haron Amin is the Washington spokesman for the Afghan United Front. "We have met with the former monarch of Afghanistan," he said. "We hope that he can play the role of a unifying figurehead in Afghanistan."

Mr. Amin told CNN's Late Edition that Northern Alliance forces have not received any aid from the United States and its allies, though talks are underway. He said the Northern Alliance is currently buying weapons at discounted prices from Russia.