The old civil and ethnic battles are roiling Afghanistan once again and causing concern for interim President Hamid Karzai. At least twice his palace guards have opened fire--on each other. The Foreign Minister is trying to undermine his own deputy. And while the U.S. attempts to shore up stability, its campaign in the provinces--arming local warlords who profess loyalty to the war against terror--could have dangerous consequences. Says a Karzai adviser: "The U.S. is creating mini-armies around the country which are detrimental to Karzai."
All of which makes Karzai's mission to Rome later this week especially important. He is going there to bring back the country's exiled King, Mohammed Zahir Shah, in an effort to reconstitute national unity. The King's 40-year reign, the country's last taste of peace and prosperity, was ended by a coup in 1973 while the monarch was in Italy for mud-bath treatments. At an interview with TIME, the King appeared in notably better health than he did five months ago, when world leaders began looking to him to help fill the vacuum left by the Taliban. Still, he is 87 years old. "But this is the very reason for my return," he insists. "I want to dedicate the last few years of my life to confront the difficulties in the land to which I belong." He will leave his villa in north Rome for a cluster of hillside residences in Kabul (his palace is a fire-gutted shell). He is curious to see whether the small farm 20 miles from the capital, where he grew grapes, melons and pears from imported plants, survived the war. Karzai hopes that Zahir Shah will be a symbol of unity, but the President won't have to worry about being outshone in other ways. Unlike Karzai, whose outfits have made a global splash, the King will stick to Western suits. Says an aide: "He prefers gray." --By Jeff Israely/Rome and Tim McGirk/Kabul