Tag Archives: Afghanistan-Tourism

“Peace and Prosperity Through Tourism”

Band-e-Amir, Bamiyan Afghanistan. Photo by Ali Asghar

UNWTO should prefer Bamyan as Host to 2010 World Tourism Day under the theme of “Peace and Prosperity through Tourism”

World Tourism Day is celebrated each year on 27 September. The United Nations World Tourism Organization marked the day in 1970, aimed at generating awareness about tourism and its importance to economy and culture of communities. Every year the day is celebrated by a host country.

There has been no effort at all, by the Government of Afghanistan to promote tourism in the country. Beside the Government inefficiency, insurgency has been another reason. Afghanistan is always on western headlines for insurgency, bomb blasts and suicide attacks but the other side of Afghanistan is less shown to the world.There are many tourist sites in safe parts of Afghanistan. The western media generally reports “Insurgency in Afghanistan” for incidents in South or Southeast. This negative and exaggerating reporting makes the western tourists think of entire Afghanistan as insurgency-hit. Thus many international tourists avoid coming to Afghanistan.

Before the civil war Bamyan was one of the most famous tourist sites in Afghanistan. Tourism was the only source of income for this isolated, yet safest province. Famous as roof of the world, heart of Asia and crossroad of the Western and Eastern ancient civilizations, the beautiful valley lies amidst the mountainous highlands of Hindu Kush and Pamir. Center of the ancient Kushan Empire. Bamyan centuries ago used to be an intersection where Eastern and Western civilizations met and co-existed. Thus the land was the center of trade between East and West. Bamyan has rich history of civilizations and tragic memories of brutality. Beauty of this valley had not only impressed Marco Polo, but also Alexander the Great. Bamyan is at the altitude of 9200 (feet), making it roof of the world. Its geographical location highlights the mountainous valley as heart of Asia.

During the brutal Taliban era, Bamyan was a symbol of resistance and sacrifice. It suffered the most. But today it’s the safest province of Afghanistan. There has ot been a single incident of insecurity in the province during the last eight years. The Kiwi forces of Provincial Reconstruction Team enjoy wrestling with local Hazaras.

Bamyan gained international attention in 2001 when Taliban destroyed the giant Buddhas that stood there since centuries. The brutal forces of evil deemed the Buddhas as non-Islamic. They not only committed the worst genocidal war crimes in the history of human beings, but also destroyed the centuries old Buddhas which was the only source of income for the downtrodden economy of the isolated mountainous province. According to some reports, one of the reasons behind the destruction of Bamyan Buddhas was to destroy the economic resources of the province. After the ouster of Taliban and during the last seven years of international efforts in Afghanistan, Bamyan has been neglected both by the Government and the international community.

There is only two kilometers of paved road in the entire province. Billions of dollars has been poured in Afghanistan for development. All these have been going to insurgency-hit areas. The roads from Kabul to Bamyan are risky due to insecurity on the way from Maidan Province, and the long uncomfortable way from Shiber Pass. Many tourists and travelers prefer traveling by air. There are no proper flights because Bamyan is yet deprived of a proper Airport. Some private flights of UN and PACTEC operate for INGOs, diplomats and journalists. Thanks to Laura Bush, whose visit of Bamyan last year in June blessed the province with 2 kilometer road from Governor House to the Runway. Many international tourists avoid traveling to Bamyan because of the deplorable way and unavailability of an Airport.

Governor Sarabi and UN Envoy Kai Eide boating in Band-e-Amir. Photo by A. Daiyar

After Buddhas, Band-e-Amir, the world famous group of lakes, is the second attractive site for international tourists. Govt. declared Band-e-Amir as the First National Park of Afghanistan. How can tourists visit the world-famous group of lakes with no airport in Bamyan? USAID is working on project of developing Band-e-Amir, the National Park. But a paved road from the center of the province to the lakes is needed. The road from Kabul to Bamyan should also be built to improve local tourists coming to Bamyan.

Bamyan Eco-Tourism, a project being run under the Agha Khan Development Network, is working for improving the tourism industry of Bamyan. Their office right in front of the giant Buddha statues are not only training professional tour guides, but also have been organizing trainings for local hoteliers. The 1.2 million aid by the Government of New Zealand is for the three-year project. Bamyan Eco-Tourism is doing all the best to revitalize the dead industry. It has organized many international events, including the recent Silk Road Festival held at Band-e-Amir.

The international community should focus to the peaceful areas of Afghanistan too. All the development aid has been going to insurgency-hit areas due to which places like Bamyan have remained neglected. If tourism industry in Bamyan is improved, it will not only be a good income for the province, but the entire economy of the country. It will create hundreds of jobs for local population.

To highlight this issue, the UN Envoy for Afghansitan Mr. Kai Eidie recently visited Bamyan province to bring the attention of international community to this peaceful, but neglected province.

Bamyan is the most peaceful province of Afghanistan, thus international tourists should flock without any security fear. The United Nations World Tourism Organization is requested to prefer Afghanistan’s Bamyan province as the 2010 host of the World Tourism Day under the theme of “Peace and Prosperity through Tourism”.

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