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Sunday, 7 October, 2001, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Rally for the return of Afghan king
Anti Taleban political leader Mahmoud Khan Achhezai
Political leader Achhezai led anti Taleban rally
Daniel Lak

For the first time in this border city, a public meeting has been held denouncing the Taleban regime in Afghanistan and calling for the reinstatement of the exiled former king, Zahir Shah.

This region of south-central Asia has long played a key role in Afghan affairs.

Pro King Shah rally
Supporters of Afghanistan's old king waved the royal flag
Zahir Shah's family comes from the Kandahar area, just across the border, and the Taleban came from Muslim religious schools or madrassa's in and around Quetta.

About 10,000 people gathered in a football ground to hear speakers call for moderate Afghans to decide their own future by calling for a traditional Afghan tribal gathering, a Loya Jirga, under the king's supervision.

Royal flag

The crowd, many of them Pashtun tribesmen from the border area with Afghanistan, cheered loudly and waved flags.

One old man carried the old royalist flag from Zahir Shah's days as king, a tricolour with the monarch's coat of arms in the centre.

A picture of the king as a much younger man was nailed to the flagstaff.

Afghan King in exile Mohammed Zahir Shah
Afghan King in exile Mohammed Zahir Shah draws supporters among Afghan refugees
Mahmoud Khan Achhezai was the main speaker. He's the head of the popular local Pashtun National Peoples' Party, an anti-clerical, left of centre group that calls for greater autonomy for the various tribal and ethnic groups of Pakistan.

Mr Achhezai said King Zahir Shah had to go to Kabul to restore calm and dignity to Afghanistan.

Along with other speakers, he denounced the role of the Pakistani military and the powerful Interservice Intelligence spy agency, the ISI, in founding the Taleban and generally meddling in internal Afghan affairs.


To calls of "victory" and "long live Afghanistan", Mr Achhezai warned the American-lead coalition against terrorism about the grave implications of a military strike on Afghan territory.

"All sane people condemn the attacks in Washington and New York last month", he said, "but more violence, especially against Afghanistan, will only make many things worse.

"A Loya Jirga and the return of the king are the ways forward."

Local journalists said the rally was clearly being held with the approval of the Pakistani government, despite the criticisms of the military and calls for restoration of democracy.

They pointed out that Pakistan may be resigned to air strikes, bombings or ground campaigns lead by the Americans in neighbouring Afghanistan, but there remains hope here that there are other ways of catching Osama Bin Laden, or even toppling the Taleban.

Pakistan has completely changed its policy on Afghanistan since the September 11th attacks in America.

Rise of Taleban

Islamabad used to be vigourously against any role in Afghanistan for King Zahir Shah, despite his lasting appeal to many Pashtun tribesmen who live along both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Instead, the Pakistanis worked on their own alternatives to the king as a leader of the Pashtuns, the largest tribal-ethnic group in Afghanistan.

Most recently that was the Taleban, founded in 1994 to restore security to the west of the country to protect Pakistani trader convoys from bandits.

The Pakistanis worked on their own alternatives to the king as a leader of the Pashtuns. Most recently that was the Taleban.

Military and intelligence officers oversaw the spread of the Islamic Students' militia until it controlled 90% of Afghan territory.

Along with Saudi Arabia, they funded Taleban offensives and providing military advisors in the field.

Now Pakistan has rejected its former allies, and the Quetta rally is just the latest sign.

Mr Achhezai, drew his loudest cheers when he told the crowd that America too was to blame for the rise of the Taleban.

He said Washington used the Afghan people to fight Soviet occupation during the Cold War, but abandoned them soon after Moscow withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in 1979.

He reminded his audience of a Pashtun tribal proverb. To waving hands and laughter, he said:

"When no one pays attention to the sheep, he belongs to the wolves. Now the wolves, the Taleban, are finished."

See also:

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Pakistan's cash for co-operation deal
06 Oct 01 | South Asia
US begins ground deployment
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Bush pushes for more tax cuts
06 Oct 01 | Americas
US launches 'anti-terror' satellite
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Afghan aid: The supply problems
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
The Taleban military machine
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