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Afghan Ex-King Tours the Devastated Capital

April 20, 2002|From Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — The former king pulled up in a limousine and climbed regally up the steps to his father's grave Friday. But as he stepped into the domed crypt, he shuffled to a stop.

The old man gaped at the rocket holes in the roof, the columns destroyed by gunfire, the graffiti left by the Taliban.

It was the 87-year-old former monarch's first up-close experience with the devastation that his people suffered during his 29 years of exile.

Mohammad Zaher Shah returned to Afghanistan on Thursday, an emotional homecoming that most Afghans hope will help bring them peace.

Driving through Kabul on Friday, he saw a city vastly different from the one he left in 1973.

He drove past children sitting atop the stumps of brick houses left in ruins by bombing. He passed shipping containers riddled with bullet holes, and the carcasses of blown-apart cars.

Policemen and soldiers saluted his heavily guarded motorcade.

The motorcade climbed the hill topped by the tomb of his father, who was assassinated before Zaher Shah's eyes in 1933.

The elegant structure was clearly a grand sight in its day, but in the early 1990s, it served as a fighting position during a factional battle for Kabul.

Wearing a brown leather jacket and tinted glasses, Zaher Shah held out his hands in prayer over his father's tomb while a man recited verses from the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

The former king turned to Ahmed, the 7-year-old son of Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Shirzai, took the boy's face in his hands and kissed the top of his head.

Then he left, accompanied by interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.

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