- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Afghanistan's former king declared yesterday that he was not a candidate for any post in the government to be chosen by a grand council, which was delayed by differences within the Afghan leadership over the deposed monarch's role.
The council, or loya jirga, was supposed to start yesterday, but that opening was reset for this afternoon. Afghan officials cited logistical problems.
However, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad blamed the delay on reports the former monarch, Mohammed Zahir Shah, would be a candidate for head of state. The Northern Alliance, which dominates the interim administration, strongly opposes any role for the king, and its intelligence chief sent armed troops to the site of the loya jirga late Sunday in a show of strength.
After daylong meetings, Mr. Zahir Shah declared in a statement read by an aide that "I have no intention of restoring the monarchy" and "I am not a candidate for any position in the loya jirga."
Instead, Mr. Zahir Shah endorsed the candidacy of the current interim leader, Hamid Karzai, to run the country under the new government. The statement was read at a press conference attended by Mr. Karzai and Mr. Khalilzad.
Mr. Karzai thanked the former king for his support and said he would be given "the highest protocol position." A spokesman for the former monarch, Azim Nasser-Zia, said that Mr. Zahir Shah had never sought public office but simply "wants to help his people."
However, support for the monarch had been growing, especially among the majority Pashtuns who believe they have been marginalized since the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance came to power last year after U.S. bombing toppled the Taliban regime.
Several Pashtun delegates to the loya jirga were shocked by the king's announcement.
"We want the king as a candidate," said a delegate identifying himself as Mirwais. "How can this be one step toward democracy? What kind of a democracy is this?"


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