Pakistanis Meet Afghan King's Envoys

Pakistani officials met Monday with representatives of the former Afghan king as part of diplomatic efforts to shape a new government for Afghanistan if its Taliban rulers fall. 

The delegation, led by former Afghan foreign minister Hedayat Amin Arsalen, met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and is expected to meet President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, an official from Pakistan's foreign ministry said on condition of anonymity. 

The visit is to boost U.N. efforts to form a broad-based government in Afghanistan, said Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan. 

It was not known whether the king's party would meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who arrived in Islamabad Monday evening. 

King Mohammad Zaher Shah held talks Monday at his Rome residence with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, but no details of the discussions were released. 

Pakistan had been a longtime supporter of the Taliban until the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, blamed on Osama bin Laden. He lives in Afghanistan under Taliban protection. 

Since the attacks, Musharraf has supported the U.S. air campaign to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. He has predicted that the days of the Taliban are numbered. 

However, Pakistan opposes allowing the Afghan opposition to capture Kabul and replace the Taliban. The opposition coalition is dominated by ethnic minorities, while the Taliban are largely from the majority Pashtun ethnic group, many of whom live in Pakistan. 

The 87-year-old former king ruled for four decades before he was toppled in 1973 by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud. He has lived in exile in Rome since then. 

Pakistan has said it would be open to a political role for the former king as long as any new administration includes Pashtuns as well as the other ethnic groups. 

The Taliban have denounced Zaher Shah and say he should be ashamed for interfering in the life of a country he abandoned decades ago. 

Earlier this month, the deposed monarch and the northern alliance of opposition forces agreed to convene a traditional Afghan assembly to choose a new government if the Taliban are toppled.