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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 15:24 GMT
Afghan leader visits exiled king
Hamed Karzai
Hamed Karzai says peace and security are his priorities
Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamed Karzai, has flown out of Kabul on his first trip abroad since being appointed prime minister.

Mr Karzai is travelling to Rome to call on the last Afghan King, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who has lived there in exile for nearly 30 years.

The king played a crucial, if indirect, role in the Bonn negotiations which led to the agreement on the formation of an interim government headed by Mr Karzai.

Ex-King Zahir Shah
The ex-king has lived in exile for 30 years

This coalition of anti-Taleban forces will take over Afghan administration on 22 December and rule the country for six months.

Before taking over, Mr Karzai wants to brief the king on latest developments, and presumably invite him to chair a Loya Jirga, a traditional grand assembly, that will decide on Afghanistan's future.

King Zahir Shah, now 87, has in the recent past offered to return to Afghanistan if his presence helped the establishment of a broad-based post-Taleban government and ended warfare.

Mr Karzai would like to touch all bases of Afghan politics to ensure that the coalition of anti-Taleban elements he heads represents the most important strands and can effectively restore peace.

The trip to Rome is thought to be a final step in that direction.

Mollah Omar
The Taleban leader is an elusive problem

Mr Karzai saw former President Borhanuddin Rabbani soon after arriving in Kabul.

He also paid his respects to the slain commander-in-chief of Mr Rabbani's Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud.

By calling on Zahir Shah, he would have completed the series of gestures he needs to make to underscore the representative character of his administration.

Mr Karzai is the head of the Popolzai clan of the Mohammadzai Durrani Pashtun tribe to which the royal family belongs.

Urgent issues

But few see any future for royalty in Afghanistan.

Besides, Mr Karzai will have a lot of urgent issues to resolve.

The country needs peace and security to recover from two decades of warfare.

The Taleban have been defeated but not destroyed, and their leader, Mullah Omar, has disappeared.

Meanwhile, military operations against the remnants of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda terror network continue.

Also, powerful warlords like Rashid Dostum in Mazar and Ismail Khan in Herat do not support Mr Karzai's administration.

In that context, the trip is likely to be a short, formal affair with little of substance to emerge from it.

However, in a land where "face" is crucial, it would be an important visit.

See also:

14 Dec 01 | South Asia
Karzai's pursuit of Mullah Omar
13 Dec 01 | South Asia
New Afghan leader enters Kabul
11 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
That's nice, I'm prime minister!
02 Nov 01 | South Asia
Karzai: King's powerful Pashtun ally
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan powerbrokers: Who's who
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