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Inside Afghanistan

October 1, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


IAN WILLIAMS: It was once a bustling market town. Now Jalalabad is fast turning into a ghost town — its people gone and tribal leaders reported to be distancing themselves from the Taliban. It lies around 40 miles from the Pakistan border on the road to Kabul. And this amateur video, smuggled out, points to the extent of the exodus as families flee around rugged mountain paths toward the border. While across that border in the Pakistani frontier town of Pashua, protesters today were calling for the first time for the return of the exiled Afghan king. The 86-year-old monarch has lived in Rome since being overthrown by his cousin in 1973. He had reigned for 40 mostly peaceful years — his family having ruled Afghanistan since 1747. The Taliban has condemned him, but he still commands wide respect and is being seen as pivotal to frantic efforts to create a government in exile to replace the Taliban. The man around whom those efforts are revolving is this man, tribal chief, one-time Afghan government minister and now an emissary from the king.

HAMID KARZAI, Afghan Opposition Leader: I’m speaking of empowering Afghanistan. And that empowerment can only come if we help the representatives of the majority of Afghans to get together in a body, in a meeting, in a gathering, and discuss and deliberate the future of Afghanistan and make a decision.

IAN WILLIAMS: Among those involved in these discussions, the uneasy opposition groupings compromising the Northern Alliance. And in the South, Persian-speaking allies of Ishmael Khan centered around Herat, the city he once controlled. Crucially conflicts have also been made with disaffected tribal leaders in the tribal belts around Jalalabad, Khowst, and the Taliban’s spiritual capital, Kandahar, all Pushton speakers like the Taliban. The other key player is the U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan. Their aim is to speedily convene a grand assembly of tribal chiefs under the authority of the king.

FRANCESC VENDRELL, U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan: Of course I’m talking to all the Afghans that I’m able to reach. I’m talking about the need to use this narrow window of opportunity to basically, I would say, almost liberate the Afghan people, try and bring the Afghans together and turn them into allies of any kind of international action.

IAN WILLIAMS: But Pakistan, another important player, is deeply suspicious of the Northern Alliance. But the king’s emissary is an optimist who says he’s already in touch with disaffected members of the Taliban.

HAMID KARZAI: And we will welcome any action that takes terrorism out of Afghanistan and that helps Afghanistan back on its own feet.

IAN WILLIAMS: He’s betting that the ultimate desire of the suffering Afghans is for peace and that a grand council, the first since 1964, would be respected.