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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Can the former Afghan King unite his country?
Former Afghan king Zahir Shah has returned to Kabul after spending 29 years in exile.
Although officially he is now just as an ordinary citizen, Zahir Shah, who is now 87, was greeted in the airport by the guard of honour and delegations from all over the country.
Many hope that he will have a significant role to play, acting as a symbolic unifying figure and reminding about the peaceful Afghanistan of the 1960s.
But security was tight on his arrival, and the king's return even had to be postponed several times due to concerns over his safety. Some say this might indicate that Zahir Shah still has powerful enemies in the country.
Do you think the former king will play a significant political role in Afghanistan? What difference will his return make?
This Talking Point is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I liked him very much, but now he has forgotten his mother tongue. So it's impossible to compare him with what he was before. I would expect Mr Karzai Khan to rule Afghanistan in the future, he can handle all the stuff and can bring a peaceful solution for the great Afghanistan and Afghans.
No! No! No!
Only education of the masses can help Afghanistan and that has to include every Afghan Male and Female from 3-4 years of age and onwards, including the oldest.
Karen Thayer, USA
Of course it makes a difference. People in every tribe respect the ex-king and he can be a symbol of peace and unity for the people of Afghanistan.
As a native of Afghanistan and a practicing attorney in the USA, I am encouraged that the former King has finally decided to relinquish the 'good life' in Rome to join his suffering subjects in this devastated land, as any good ex-King should do. However, during the decades of brutality in Afghanistan, the former King did not once return to symbolize any form of unity to the people. Even Abraham Lincoln sacrificed his life in an attempt to unite his country. And he was only an elected president for four years. During the Bonn process, the former King was invited to head the interim administration, but declined to do so for whatever reasons. Now, that it is mostly all quiet on the Afghan front, the fact of his return can and has set an example for repatriating Afghans of the Diaspora.
Unfortunately, my people were suffering during his 40 years of reign... He won't be able to do anything or bring something to the Afghan people. Unless his masters make him do something...
He is the man with a great patience, and that shows in his exile. Truly, he is the king and he will always remain so. Afghan is going to have a great change.....but his love to the West has to be re-defined.
No he can not as too many players are cooking their own brand of food in Kabul's kitchen and the king has got no power to add his own salt and flavour in it. He is a helpless man.
In my view, the king can play a unique role in Afghanistan, He is the symbol of unity and Afghans can get their previous honours under the shelter of his kindness. I, heartily, request my people not to let others to interfere with our country and let us to have a peaceful and developed country. Long live Afghanistan and its people.
I congratulate all Afghans on the coming of the king back to his homeland. I pray that by his coming back all Afghans will get united and his charisma shall bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.
This is to Mangal Sabawoon, don't say so king can make a challenge for the Uzbeks, Tajiks and the rest of the minorities, let him unite everyone not just the Pashtuns, but all Afghans. I'm a Pashtun from Kandahar and I just want the king to unite everyone and let us be Afghans, instead of Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.
I believe that the King's return to Afghanistan will be a uniting factor for his ethnic group - Pashtuns. I truly believe that Pashtuns from the entire Pashtun Belt will rally behind him, and challenge the minority Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras of the Northern Alliance for power. I hate to say it, but I think the King will just bring another civil war to Afghanistan between the Northern Alliance and the soon-to-be-established Southern Alliance.
Yes his return has a big effect on people of Afghanistan, they still like him.
Johar Ali, USA
I believe he is the only hope for Afghans who had run a clean government where people were able to live a normal life. People have suffered a great deal during the last two decades and they have realised that nobody really struggled to work for the nation. To this aim, his presence will definitely make a difference for ordinary people.
As a firm believer in constitutional monarchy I think a secure independent monarch is the only person who is going to be able to lead a deeply divided Afghanistan. This is exactly the kind of situation for which monarchy is a God-send! It's largely due to the prior existence of the Afghan monarchy that the Taleban regime never had any real legitimacy, and thank God for that.
The king's return to Kabul can bring a significant change in Afghan history after two decades of war. This time each and every Afghan has a lot of expectations from the king to bring peace and stability
The King's return to Kabul will help
between the North and the South. With
the positive support from Iran
and Pakistan, the
era of warlords will end.
I am really not that fond of the job that the King did when he was at the throne for my country, but today, I think he can play an important role in unifying the Pashtuns and Tajiks and let Afghanistan be ONE country, indivisible, with justice for ALL.
Aidan Work, New Zealand
There can only be peace in Afghanistan when there is law there. Until such a time that the legal system in this country is restored and justice is seen to be done, the violence and mistrust will continue. Providing that the king is seen as a head of state and as an 'independent' one, and that the legal system is restored in a fair manner, the country can recover in time. The greatest threat to peace is probably external. The big risk is for Afghanistan to become the battleground of a cold war again, this time against Arab nations. Arab nations should be doing more than they are currently doing to stabilise the country, maybe the democratic Arab nations could join the west in helping to re-build the infrastructure. And it may for once give a good example to Israelis and Palestinians of co-operation!
In my opinion, this event is another step in the process of consolidation of forces in Afghanistan towards the building of a united, independent, sovereign and strong nation.
I think the 'return of the king' plus the American installation of some type of Marshall Plan will help. If the Afghanis utilize the monetary resources America provides and try for some sort of unification, this is a definite avenue for a better way of life. I can't see how it could be any worse. A lot of people are very cynical about the building of an oil pipeline there, but if it creates some sort of economy, is that so bad? If there can be stability in such a place, then anything is possible. I say give it a chance! Why should we expect the Afghanis to continue to live in their misery. I am sure they are completely sick of it and would invite any sort of change. The Taliban gave no such alternatives that we are providing, and if they settled for that, than this cannot be so bad.
The King's return will make absolutely no difference to Afghanistan's political scene. The King has been detached from the politics in Afghanistan too long to make any impact. He does not have any local support except for few of his old mates. A country which has been bombed into oblivion by US and UK and then left in the barbaric hands of Northern Alliance to be looted and raped again will unfortunately not have peace for a long time.
The arrival of King Zahir Shah brings a ray of hope for the ordinary Afghans who still believe that the presence of charismatic king can make all the difference. He is an icon of peace, affection and brotherhood for millions of Afghans. He may have returned just as an ordinary citizen, but the elderly Afghans do remember the golden era during his kingship, when people cherished the benefits of freedom and democratic rights. In particular, the women enjoyed equal rights, a rare thing to be seen even today in many countries across the Muslim or Arab world. People adored him for his able administration, wisdom, impartiality and admiration for art, culture and education. As the post-Taleban Afghanistan now stands in ruins, the impoverished people are hopefully looking to the king to do a miracle so that the happy days of the yesteryears could be restored once again in a reasonable length of time. If there is no interference from neighbouring countries in future, there is no doubt in the minds of the Afghans that they will be able to reunite again under the leadership of the king and live their lives the way they ever wanted.
Zahir Rahmani, Afghanistan
Keeping Afghanistan together with superglue is going to be rather challenging after the events of the last three decades in that country. Let's pray he succeeds.
The return of the father of the nation, King Zahir Shah has increased the hopes all Afghans. The only personality who can bring unity, peace, and discipline back to Afghanistan is the dear king.
Akeel Shah, Canada
Of course the ex-king will make a difference. As history shows all troubled countries wish for a leader untainted by scandal. This elderly man has the hopes of the world on his shoulders, which can be overbearing, but if he stays above the political, racial, tribal and religious tensions (a big task in the current situation) he will succeed in bringing a workable solution to the years of war. That of course does not mean peace and a happy ending, as this is the real world. But there must be give and take on all sides and this is what people are forgetting today. I believe in the ex-king's charismatic ability.
We believe the king's return will bring a bright future for all Afghan people - if people leave him to work and meet people himself. But he has to decide that Afghanistan belongs to all Afghans not just to one or two tribes.
After Russia's invasion, the only hope for peace, stability and a united Afghanistan has been the return of the King. He has been seen as a unifying father of the nation who will bring all ethnic groups together. His majesty will restore the pride and dignity of the Afghan nation to the world.
He could very well become a powerful symbol of tribal unity that this land-locked country needs most critically at this time. Will he unite and galvanise the southern Pashtuns with the northern tribes? If not, Afghanistan will remain in the wilderness. With the limited time that the King has, one hopes and prays that he brings peace and solace to the poor people of this luckless land.
I fear he'll be regarded in some camps as a puppet and a target, in that order. Some will smell the US on him and that would be enough in itself.
That said, I'd love for history to prove me wrong!
Despite the fact that most Afghans believe that Zahir Shah led Afghanistan right into the Russian invasion, his rule for 40 years was a time of peace and prosperity. Most Afghans view his era as the golden age instead of analysing what had occurred during the end of his reign. Therefore, I think that a lot of Afghans have respect for him and would welcome him back to his country with open arms. I also think that he will play a key role in forming the loya jirga. However, he must unite the entire country under one flag and put the ethnic and linguistic conflicts aside.
Honestly, do any of you believe there will be any change? Afghanistan still seems to be a leaderless country, no matter how many ex-kings or leaders are brought to the political scene. Was it the people, themselves, through their voting, or another power(s) which decided on the return of an ex-king? Think hard!
Significant? It's vital.
Without him, Afghanistan has too many chiefs, and not one of the warlords stands a chance of ever being accepted as leader over another.
He is possibly the only person they would ever consider playing second fiddle to, because he is not a rival to any of them.
He is an immediate reminder that democracy, peace, stability, wealth and enlightenment are all perfectly achievable. Why? Because Afghanistan has been there before.
The king may be able to focus national unity, for this reason. In time, elected government will become viable.
The provisional administration can then be replaced by constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy - which is by far the most stable format of government. With a symbolic figure rather than a political activist at the helm, Afghanistan has a real chance to break the cycle of conflict.
Rebuilding Afghanistan needs financial aid, but also political vision and the former king is the only person who can encourage the people to strive for their destiny. I think his return will help stablise the war-ravaged country.
If Zahir Shah can, and is permitted, to provide a significant area of common ground between the diverse peoples of Afghanistan then he will have done the greatest service to that country. Given that he appears to have no aspirations to fill any other role that that of a constitutional monarch, his return may be the catalyst that delivers peace and good governance to a country that desperately need it.
I believe his return will be very significant. Afghanistan with its fragile factional govenment, needs a cohesive force and the ex-king will provide that. His presence will buffer acts of those who dislike the government.
What influence can an 87-year-old man make when he has almost disappeared for the last 29 years? Appoint a different King. Zahir Shah's reappointment will cause more trouble within Afghanistan.
In a country at war, with thousands of foreign troops within its borders, with tens of thousands of armed terrorists poised on the border, with hundreds of thousands of refugees, with most of its infrastructure systematically destroyed over the last 20 years - what they really need is a royal family - I don't think so.
He may not play an important political role at this moment, but his return may help to unite people and bring confidence that this time the international community won't abandon Afghans again.
Khalid Hamza, Kabul, Afghanistan
His return concerns me and it will not please everyone. In the 1960s everyone had a different mindset and with all this recent disruption his presence will not make a difference. I think it will cause nothing but more trouble.
It would be nice if he could unite his people and be an influence for good, but that rather depends on the Americans not bombing him by mistake.
17 Apr 02 | South Asia
No ordinary homecoming
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Kabul joy as ex-king returns
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