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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK
Afghan ex-king awaits nation's decision
Zahir Shah (centre) at his residence in Kabul
Zahir Shah is keen to play a role in Afghanistan's future

On the eve of Afghanistan's loya jirga, or Grand National Council, the country's former king has said he is ready to accept any role which the Loya Jirga decides for him.

Speaking to the BBC, 87-year-old Zahir Shah said his many meetings with Afghans since his return home in April after 30 years in exile had convinced him the majority of Afghans were backing him.

Hamid Karzai
Some Afghans would rather see Hamid Karzai as head of state
The role Afghanistan's former king should play is one of the most important and sensitive decisions facing the loya jirga.

A growing number of Afghans, particularly from his own Pashtun ethnic group, are demanding he be given a position with significant power and prestige.

But Zahir Shah emphasized he was not in Afghanistan to restore the monarchy.

The role he would take, he said, depended on the will of the majority.

Father figure

There is intense speculation over whether the former king will assume a ceremonial role - what Afghans call a Baba, or father figure - or a more executive position, possibly the head of state.

In recent days there has been a growing impression of a surge in support for the former monarch, but there is strong resistance among some Afghans to the idea that he be given any significant responsibility.

Asked about his own personal desires, Zahir Shah spoke of his advancing age, but said he was ready to serve his country for as long as he lived.

He added that his own role would depend on the coordination and support he received from Afghans.

But he said he did not fear problems arising over this, saying Afghans would be able to solve their problems.

There will at the very least be intense debate, if not passionate arguments, at the loya jirga on the matter.

The issue is also linked to the roles expected to be played by other key figures, including the present chairman Hamid Karzai.

He has been receiving public expressions of support from prominent ministers and commanders to become the new head of state - support in particular from those who do not want the former monarch to play such a prominent role.


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19 Apr 02 | South Asia
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
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