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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Can the former Afghan King unite his country?
Zahir Shah
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.

Your comments:

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.
Khan, Australia

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.
John Henry, Singapore

I am for whatever works

Karen Thayer, USA
I am for whatever works. If the King coming back does the job, then great. But what I don't understand is why it should make a difference. Twenty years ago, from most accounts, Afghanistan was a wonderful country with a political system that seemed to be somewhat democratic. Why can't they just stop the bickering between the different groups? The only way you are going to achieve a lasting peace is to tolerate each other.
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.
Belquis Habib, USA

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.
KSekander, USA

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...
Omar, Australia

America needs to chose a legitimate party to come to power that would be in interest of Afghanistan and America

Hasib, UK
This time America should make no mistake about it. America needs to chose a legitimate party to come to power that would be in interest of Afghanistan and America. Therefore I see any comments baseless, but the king could do a better job. It's all about how the west really wants it to be...not like Taliban.
Hasib, UK

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.
Abdul Latheef K, Dubai, UAE

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.
Ali Ahmed Rind, Karachi city, Pakistan.

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.
Tamim Saskai, Afghanistan

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.
Fouzia Ebadi, Ottawa, Canada

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.
Khaleeq, Washington D.C, US

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.
Mangal Sabawoon, USA

Yes his return has a big effect on people of Afghanistan, they still like him.
Kabir Sekander, USA

The return of the king can only bring hope but not a lasting peace

Johar Ali, USA
Nothing can bring a positive change but the Afghan people themselves. The return of the king can only bring hope but not a lasting peace. The war-torn country needs international help at this stage. To bring a lasting peace, it is important that a sustainable help be provided by the international organisations. The basic needs of life with proper security in place in the whole country will bring stability. The first and the most important of all is to have security in place in each and every corner of Afghanistan.
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.
S. Maqsood Fazil, UK/Afghanistan

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.
Andrew Schrader, England, UK

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
Ahmad Mansoor Haidari, Afghanistan/Pakistan

The King's return to Kabul will help bridge differences between the North and the South. With the positive support from Iran and Pakistan, the era of warlords will end.
Khalid Rahim, Canada

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.
Haroon, Los Angeles, CA USA

He is still the legitimate King of Afghanistan, and will always be so.

Adrian Work, New Zealand
It is very good that the King has gone home. I am sure that he will be given an important part to play in rebuilding his troubled country. Only he can unify the various ethnic groups, as his reign was an era of peace. Afghanistan can only be truly at peace once a truly democratic government restores both the 1964 Constitution and the monarchy itself, which is in the person of His Majesty himself. He was not only King of Afghanistan before 1973, and in exile, but he is still the legitimate King of Afghanistan, and will always be so.
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!
A Walker, England

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.
Masood Siddiqui, Afghanistan/Pakistan

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.
Jim, USA

There are too many wannabe Kings in Afghanistan

Hubcap, Canada
I do not think the arrival of the King will make any difference at all. There are too many wannabe Kings in Afghanistan (all the Warlords from the various regions in the war torn country.) What the country needs is to use whatever dollars are donated to the present government to rebuild the infrastructure and regain law and order, not to waste money on supporting a puppet King.
Hubcap, Canada

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.
Kamran, UK

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.
Mahesh Chandra Somani, Finland

I pray that he will bring stability and unity back to Afghanistan

Zahir Rahmani, Afghanistan
He is a fatherly figure in our nation and I pray to the Almighty that he will end the war and corruption in our country and bring stability and unity back to Afghanistan.
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.
Narinder Dogra, USA

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.
Fazel Ahmad, Pakistan

His return provides a link to a more peaceful past

Akeel Shah, Canada
Obviously the return of Zahir Shah can only be seen as a symbolic gesture. But I think it is a very powerful one and it reinforces the impression that Afghanistan is at a transformative stage. His return reminds everyone that this period is a tremendous opportunity for positive change. It provides a link to a more peaceful past, not an ideal past, but one that was certainly better than the last couple of decades. Ultimately, what will determine the long term stability of Afghanistan will be a commitment by the developed world to promote development and peace.
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.
Matt Erickson, Japan

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.
Moqim Azizi, Pakistan

The former king's return will not make any difference

Alam, USA
The fragmentation of Afghan society has almost reached the point of no return. Therefore, all attempts to unify the country are doomed and the former king's return will not make any difference. The Taleban regime has deeply antagonised relations between the Pashtuns and other ethnic groups, namely the Tajiks. Zakhir Shah's return for them is nothing, but just an attempt to impose Pashtun rule again. The frail ex-king will, most likely, be used as a pawn to boost the popularity of his relative Hamid Karzai.
Alam, USA

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.
M. Salem Samim, Afghanistan/USA

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.
Dev Chopra, India

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!
Richard, Bath UK

With his neutrality he might be able to make a difference

Siddiqui, Pakistan
The king can only make a difference when and if private armies are disbanded. Even if there is a loya jirga, unless the gun culture in Afghanistan is eradicated he won't be able to do much. Even with the allies present in Afghanistan, local warlords are still fighting over some areas. Afghans will respect him because he has not been involved in the past two decades of fighting. With his neutrality he might be able to make a difference. But his greatest difficulty will be dealing with the basic ethnic problem. Coming from a Pashtun background, the same as Taleban, he will face difficulties from other ethnic groups.
Siddiqui, Pakistan

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.
Yasmine, USA

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!
Sten, Lund, Sweden

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.
Tim Staddon, UK

His return means NOTHING

MAQ, Afghanistan
For the Afghans, King Zahir Shah will bring the same thing. His return means NOTHING. I am sorry, his Majesty brought us misery, depression, sorrow, anxiety, despondency, agony, trouble and the dollar.
MAQ, Afghanistan

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.
Muhammed Ali Shahani, Hyderabad, Pakistan

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.
John Brownlee, England

My nation suffers so much from the lack of good leaders

Peshtaz, Afghanistan/UK
Whether Zahir Shah will be able to make a difference will depend largely on the US and its Western allies. If the US can control the Northern Alliance warlords and help to establish a non-partisan national army, Zahir will succeed. However, I feel sorry for my nation that suffers so much from lack of good leaders that we need to bring Zahir Shah, a very old man, to bring peace and stability. Shame on us.
Peshtaz, Afghanistan/UK

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.
Ajmal, England

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.
Jo-anne Mulqueen, Brentwood, Essex

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.
Steve, Upminster UK

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.
Maher, Afghanistan

We expect him to end racism and bring stability

Khalid Hamza, Kabul, Afghanistan
His return in fact has filled every Afghan's heart with cheer and dignity. King Zahir Shah has ruled for four decades in Afghanistan and everybody in that period lived peacefully and without fear. We expect him to put an end to racism among civilians and different ethnic groups, to bring stability, to lead the country towards civilisation and a modern country. We all know that the king is the suitable person to replace the Hamid Karzai administration. He was our leader and he will remain our king ever after. The king is willing to rebuild the war-torn country and this harmonises with our life so we will always welcome him with great honour.
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.
Samantha Rolfe, Shenfield, Essex

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.
Phil, UK

See also:

17 Apr 02 | South Asia
No ordinary homecoming
18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Kabul joy as ex-king returns
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