Hamid Karzai leader politician interim government Afghanistan King Zahir Shah Image Credit: REUTERS

Former king Mohammad Zahir Shah set foot on Afghan soil for the first time in 29 years to assume a new role as the father figure of his traumatised nation. Zahir Shah, 87, stepped off an Italian military plane followed by interim cabinet chairman Hamid Karzai and was greeted by senior tribal elders and ministers at Kabul’s bomb-scarred international airport. A military honour guard stood to attention as the former king walked across the tarmac over a red carpet, flanked by Karzai and Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rashid Dostam, a powerful warlord from the north. His return from Italy for the first time since he was ousted in a coup in 1973 is seen as highly symbolic of Afghanistan’s return to stability after more than two decades of war. Security was extremely tight at the airport. “His role will be to promote unity and stability,” Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said after accompanying the ex-king on his return flight. Abdullah said those closest to Zahir Shah on the Italian military C-130 plane described him as emotional as he flew into Afghan airspace. Some of the tribal chiefs and officials rushed to kiss Zahir Shah’s hand in greeting, as security agents tried to keep them from swamping the aged former monarch.

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