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Afghan King Asks US to 'Spare Innocents'

by The Guardian, UK Tuesday, Oct. 09, 2001 at 12:00 AM

Former King Mohammad Zaher Shah: "Although we recognise the United States' legitimate right to pursue and seek justice against those who perpetrated the criminal acts of September 11, our paramount objective is the safety, integrity and dignity of the Afghan nation and the Afghan territory… We urge the United States and its allies to respect the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and the safety and the life of our innocent people."

Afghan king asks US to 'spare innocents'

Staff and agencies

Monday October 8, 2001

Afghanistan's former king has said he recognised the "legitimate right" of the United States to pursue those responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks, but urged that innocents be spared in the strikes on his homeland.

In a statement issued by his office, former King Mohammad Zaher Shah, who has been working to select a new government for Afghanistan, said his paramount objective was the safety and dignity of Afghans and the integrity of the country.

"Unfortunately the unpatriotic position of the Taliban and their sponsors has again inflicted pain, sorrow and destruction on the people of Afghanistan," the statement said.

The statement was issued hours after the United States and Britain launched missile attacks on at least three Afghan cities, targeting Osama bin Laden and his Taliban backers.

The strikes came after the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden to US authorities who have named him the prime suspect in the worst terrorist attacks in American history.

"Although we recognise the United States' legitimate right to pursue and seek justice against those who perpetrated the criminal acts of September 11, our paramount objective is the safety, integrity and dignity of the Afghan nation and the Afghan territory," the statement said.

"We urge the United States and its allies to respect the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and the safety and the life of our innocent people.

"Furthermore, the Afghan nation must be given the right and the opportunity to determine its political future according to its free will," the statement concluded.

Zaher Shah, 86, ruled Afghanistan for 40 years until he was ousted in 1973 by a cousin. He has lived in exile in Rome ever since, but is still fondly remembered in Afghanistan for the relative peace and prosperity that flourished during his rule.

Since the September 11 attacks, Afghans and outsiders have looked to Zaher Shah as the only Afghan who might be able to unify Afghanistan's many ethnic and religious groups.

Last week, he forged an alliance with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance to convene an emergency meeting of tribal and military leaders to select a new government for Afghanistan.

A supreme council, of an initial 120 people representing the Northern Alliance, the king, and various tribal and ethnic groups, would select the government itself if "dire" circumstances prevented the meeting from taking place in Afghanistan.

While officials said at the time the Taliban were welcome to join, the announcement was seen as a possible opening for a new government if the Taliban were to fall as a result of US strikes.

The monarch, who met with alliance commanders at his home in a luxurious gated community on the outskirts of Rome last week, is planning to send an envoy to Pakistan to meet with top government officials.

The envoy, likely to be Hedayat Amin Arsala, an adviser to the king and a former foreign minister, could leave within a few days, aides said.

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