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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 02:38 GMT 03:38 UK
Split ahead of Afghan loya jirga
Loya jirga delegate in Kabul
Delegates are preparing for Monday's first session

Divisions have opened up over the future role of Afghanistan's former king, as the loya jirga, a traditional council that will shape the country's political future, is about to begin.

One of King Mohammed Zahir Shah's stronger supporters has warned that there could be fresh unrest if he is not restored as head of state.

But Hamid Karzai the chairman of Afghanistan's interim administration has also received powerful backing for the position of head of state.

The former king will open the loya jirga on Monday; He returned to the country in April after 29 years in exile in Italy.

Differing opinions

Zahir Shah is expected to make an emotional appeal for unity after 23 years of conflict and as the country embarks on its recovery.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim
Fahim is backing Hamid Karzai
The loya jirga's first task with the eyes of the world on it will be to appoint a head of state.

First Defence Minister Field Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim told a news conference he and the cabinet were backing Hamid Karzai for the position.

Only hours later Padshah Khan Zadran was insisting that the former king should be head of state.

Mr Zadran is a warlord who has been involved in clashes after a row over his appointment and subsequent dismissal as the governor of eastern Paktia province.

The alternative, Padshah Khan Zadran suggested, would be renewed fighting and this could lose Afghanistan international support.

He dismissed the idea of according King Zahir Shah a status such as father of the nation, one compromise that's been mooted.

The king himself has always said he would respect the people's wishes.

Human rights issue

This is not the only controversy; another has been over people standing as candidates for the loya jirga when there are allegations of human rights violations against them.

Loya jirga delegate
The loya jirga has brought delegates from all over the country
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary general's special representative for Afghanistan said it was extremely difficult to demonstrate who was guilty and who was not.

"If somebody not only swears but bring hundreds of people who say that they are innocent as babies, how would the commission demonstrate that they are not?" he said.

The UN points out that all the question marks over the loya jirga need to be seen against the background of two decades of conflict.

It claims most Afghans will judge the gathering by whether it helps to restore peace.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jackie Rowland
"The delegates have to choose an interim government"

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06 Jun 02 | South Asia
15 Apr 02 | South Asia
27 Sep 01 | South Asia
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