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Afghan King Asks U.N. to Help If Taliban Regime Should Fall

By Colum Lynch and Marc Kaufman
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Afghanistan’s exiled King Mohammed Zahir Shah has appealed to the United Nations Security Council to establish and dispatch a U.N. peacekeeping force to Afghanistan if the Taliban regime collapses under the pressure of the American and British military strikes.

The 87-year-old former king, who is at the center of international efforts to find a political alternative to the Taliban, warned U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan in a letter distributed Monday to members of the 15-nation Council that the Taliban’s defeat could lead to a bloody “power vacuum.”

“I appeal to you to bring this probable imminent danger to the attention of the Security Council,” the ex-king wrote in the Oct. 10 letter. “A peacekeeping force, under the authority of the United Nations, could be rapidly deployed with the cooperation of the international community.”

If accepted, the request would significantly expand the U.N.’s already large role in Afghan events.

Zahir Shah said the Afghan capital of Kabul, which has been the subject of more than a week of allied airstrikes, faced the greatest “risk” of descending into chaos.

“The ongoing military operation in Afghanistan ... could very well result in a sudden collapes of the so-called Taliban regime,” he wrote. “It would be a tragedy, costly in human lives, should the various forces in opposition to the Taliban vie for domination of the capital city.”

Harun Amin, Washington spokesman for opponents of the Taliban, said his United Front supports the king’s call for a U.N. rapid deployment force.

“We want the United Nations to have a central and pivotal role in all of this,” said Amin. “All efforts should be done under the aegis of the United Nations.”

He said his group has requested that troops from another Islamic nation be used and that discussions have begun with the government of Turkey. Amin -- who has worked with the current, non-Taliban Afghan representatives to the United Nations -- said that relying on one nation would allow the peacekeeping force to be assembled more quickly.

It is unclear whether the U.N. has the ability -- or the funds -- to make a difference in Afghanistan. The U.N. has been involved in ineffectual efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan for years, and already U.N. officials are raising doubts about whether donors may not provide the necessary support.

Representatives of the former king say that he does not want to return to power himself, but rather would convene a national meeting to decide who should run the Afghan government.