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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 04:16 GMT 05:16 UK
Deal to oust Taleban sealed
Opposition members
The opposition met the ex-king in Rome
Afghanistan's former monarch, Mohammad Zahir Shah, and members of the opposition have reached an agreement aimed at ousting the country's ruling Taleban regime.

The two sides have agreed to form a supreme council of Afghan leaders which in turn would convene a traditional Loya Jirga, or Grand Council.

The Loya Jirga is a centuries-old institution which brings together representatives of all the main ethnic groups, and is composed of tribal chiefs, intellectuals and religious leaders.

In an apparent move to counter the opposition, the Taleban announced that it had reached a power-sharing arrangement with tribal leaders in three southern provinces.

Anti-Taleban alliance

Leaders of the opposition Northern Alliance have been meeting with Zahir Shah in the former king's residence in exile, in the Italian capital Rome.

Zahir Shah
The king belongs to the Pashtun community
The former king has been at the centre of international efforts to forge an alliance to replace the Taleban.

Over the weekend, he met with United States congressmen from both the Democrat and Republican parties.

On Monday, senior US officials quoted by The New York Times said President George Bush had approved covert efforts to help the opposition, including possible military funding.

"The purpose is to enhance their ability to move against the Taleban," the paper quoted an unidentified US official as saying. "It is not limited to political support."

The US sees the 86-year-old former king - who belongs to the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pashtuns - as a critical figure in setting up any unity government to replace the Afghan regime, which has been sheltering Osama Bin Laden since 1996.

Taleban

But in a swift move, the Taleban said they would share power with leaders in the Khost, Paktika and Paktia provinces in the south, in an announcement carried by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.

Northern Alliance fighter
The opposition is attempting to advance
"Tribal elders and Jihadi commanders or their representatives will be included in the government machinery," Rehmad Wahid Yar was quoted as saying.

It is the first time the Taleban have agreed to any form of power-sharing since they captured Kabul in 1996.

But in a sign of growing pressure on the hardline regime, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told the BBC that it appeared the Taleban's days were numbered.

Pakistan has been the Taleban's strongest supporter and is the only country to still maintain diplomatic ties with Afghanistan.

The opposition Northern Alliance holds about 10% of Afghan territory.

Its forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with the Taleban in an effort to advance on Kabul, and they have been emboldened by the growing US military build-up in the region.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Owen Bennett Jones
asks Afghans in Peshawar what they think about the possible return of the exiled king
Former king's spokesman Dr Zalmay Rasul
"The role of the former king is to bring together all Afghans"
Pakistan's ambassador to the UN Shamshad Amad
"A government will have to emerge in Afghanistan that is broad based"
See also:

01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Musharraf admits failure over Taleban
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's king in exile
01 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden 'controls Taleban'
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
23 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan ex-king offers his services
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghanistan's future
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