- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

PESHAWAR, Pakistan An assembly of Afghan tribal leaders, clerics and former fighters against the Soviet Union yesterday rejected a plan to have the exiled king lead an interim post-Taliban government.
No one at the two-day convention spoke ill of former King Mohammed Zahir Shah by name, but the message was clear.
"This conference was for the people of Afghanistan, not the king," said Haji Hayatullah, an organizer of the event, which drew more than 1,000 fierce-looking men with weathered faces and long beards. Virtually all were veterans of the 1980s battle against occupying Soviet troops.
"This conference is louder than the king," Mr. Hayatullah said.
When the conference opened on Wednesday, the king was nominated as head of state of a proposed interim Afghan government. By the time the conference ended yesterday, a final statement simply urged the former monarch to play "an effective role" in building a new Afghanistan.
In the weeks since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, an international consensus has formed around the frail Mr. Zahir Shah, 87, as a transitional or even ceremonial leader should U.S. air strikes help topple the Taliban and their harsh brand of Islam.
The ex-king boycotted the Peshawar conference by declining to send an envoy either day.
A separate conference in Turkey, this one to be attended by the king's representatives, is slated to begin next week.
Pakistan, the key U.S. ally in its air war against the Taliban, has an interest in seeing a centrist coalition in which tribal Pashtuns from southern Afghanistan control any future government.
Yesterday, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal, met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on the future of Afghanistan.
"Solidarity with Pakistan is the duty of every Muslim, particularly at this time," the prince said after the meeting.
Turkey's president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, also came to Pakistan yesterday to show his support.
The opposition Northern Alliance, composed mainly of ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks, is mistrusted in Islamabad, partly because of its members' ill-fated rule in the early 1990s that plunged Afghanistan into civil war.
Mistrust of the former king, a Pashtun, stemmed from the years he spent at his luxury villa outside Rome without ever condemning the Soviet invasion. In the minds of some, he remains associated with Soviet-style communism.
"We can't tolerate any communist government in Afghanistan ever again," said Molvi Ubaidullah, who represented Afghans exiled in the southern Pakistan border city of Quetta.
The United States also has indicated support for the ex-king in a transitional role.
Shortly before the air strikes began Oct. 7, senior State Department official Richard Haass visited the ex-king in Rome, where he has lived since being exiled in a 1973 coup.
An end to Taliban rule would mark a victory for the United States, which is targeting the Taliban for giving shelter to Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the suicide attacks on New York and Washington.
Yesterday, the Taliban continued to trade blows with Washington in a propaganda war by denying Pentagon charges it had poisoned bags of food dropped from American planes.
"No one could be so callous," Taliban spokesman Mullah Ameer Khan Mutaqi said in a dispatch by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press.
"This is state propaganda and it proves that America has lost its nerve," Mullah Mutaqi said.
U.S. jets yesterday continued pounding Taliban positions north of Kabul. Driving the Taliban away from positions around the nearby airport would enable the alliance to fly in troops, ammunition and supplies for an attack on Kabul, about 30 miles away.
The Taliban also said a fierce battle was raging against Northern Alliance forces near the strategic northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The report could not be confirmed independently, and alliance officials lately have complained that U.S. air strikes on front-line Taliban positions have been lacking. The Northern Alliance wants to capture the city before the Afghan winter sets in. That would open alliance supply lines from the north and cut off the Taliban's supply routes to Kabul and Heart.
Opposition officials said that a Taliban commander was killed in the recent fighting around Mazar-e-Sharif and 180 prisoners taken, but that could not be independently confirmed.
The Taliban also called for the Organization of the Islamic Conference to send a delegation to Afghanistan to see a mosque, hospital and residential neighborhoods destroyed by U.S. bombs.
The Taliban also said that a bus had been hit in Kandahar, killing 10.

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