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Background: Afghan King

April 18, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Afghanistan’s frail former monarch came home this morning, accompanied by interim leader Hamid Karzai. Mohammed Zahir Shah’s return had been postponed twice because of reports of plots to assassinate him. The 87-year-old King had been living in exile in Rome since he was ousted in a 1973 palace coup. Afghanistan’s foreign minister welcomed the King home.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Interim Foreign Minister, Afghanistan: Today is another momentous day, a day of joy for the people of Afghanistan, and I should say a moment of achievement for the interim government of Afghanistan. His presence will be a boost to the political process, which we welcome. 

RAY SUAREZ: Zahir Shah says he doesn’t plan to restore the monarchy. In June, he’ll preside over a national assembly, or Loya Jirga, which will select a new transitional government to rule the country until elections can be held. The King’s return comes as Afghanistan’s interim government faces competition from tribal warlords and continuing violence around the country.

Yesterday, a U.S. soldier based in Kandahar was shot in the face when a gunman fired on a group of American soldiers. Earlier this month, the defense minister was the target of an assassination attempt. He was unhurt when a bomb exploded near his convoy in Jalalabad, but the blast killed four people and wounded more than a dozen others. And in February, the country’s civil aviation and tourism minister was attacked and killed at Kabul Airport. It’s not exactly clear whether he was killed by angry pilgrims trying to get to Mecca, or whether it was a political murder. President Bush has warned there could be more trouble on the horizon.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As the spring thaw comes, we expect cells of trained killers to try to regroup, to murder, create mayhem, and try to undermine Afghanistan’s efforts to build a lasting peace.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, the war continues in Afghanistan. This week British Marines led the search for remaining pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the eastern mountains. Britain is handing over control of the international peacekeeping force to Turkey. Under the U.N. mandates the 5,000 peacekeepers only patrol in and around Kabul. At a news conference yesterday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld turned aside complaints that a bigger peacekeeping force with U.S. participation should be operating in Afghanistan.

DONALD RUMSFELD: We’ve got a situation where we are doing a lot in the world. And if additional peacekeepers are appropriate — international security assistance force — then it seems to me that it’s important for the people who believe that they’re important to come up with the troops, come up with the money.