Elderly ex-king finally moves back to his Afghan palace

Monday, August 5, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's former king moved back into his royal palace Sunday, four months after returning from exile and 29 years after being driven from the throne in a family coup.

It clearly was a happy homecoming for the 87-year-old ex-monarch.

"It's a great pleasure for everyone," Mohammad Zaher Shah said after arriving on the palace grounds, a leafy refuge in noisy central Kabul. "You even see the birds coming back to their nests."

After returning from Italy in April, Zaher Shah moved into a two-story home on a residential street a few blocks from the old palace. The new Afghan government wanted to avoid any suggestion the monarchy was being restored.

At a national grand council, or loya jirga, that Zaher Shah formally convened in June, it was decided that the ex-king would be allowed to reside in his former grand home, as well as award titles and convene the next parliament and constitutional commission.

In exchange, Zaher Shah took his name out of contention for head of state, and interim leader Hamid Karzai was chosen president.

Karzai, whose offices are nearby on the palace grounds, welcomed the former monarch back to the Haram Sarai -- the small residential palace, which has been undergoing renovations.

"It is ready," the president announced to the ex-king.

The bent, gray-mustached ex-king, in customary ascot and a gray suit, also told Karzai he was grateful "to the nation of Afghanistan that they have placed their confidence in me and their confidence in you so we can work together for the benefit and well-being of the country."

After 40 years on the throne, Zaher Shah was toppled in 1973 by his cousin, Mohammad Daoud, and settled into exile in Rome.

In the late 1970s, Afghanistan plunged into what would be 23 years of war.

By the time a U.S.-led campaign brought down the Taliban government last December, many Afghans viewed the exiled monarch as a symbol of prewar stability who should be brought back as a figurehead head of state.

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