War-torn Afghanistan sets up tourism ministry

War-torn Afghanistan sets up tourism ministry

The president of war-torn Afghanistan is creating a tourism ministry in a bid to attract visitors to the country endowed with stunning landscapes and archaeological sites, but wracked by nearly four decades of conflict.

Ashraf Ghani issued a presidential decree this week ordering the ministry be established and naming Ghulam Nabi Farahi, a former parliamentary affairs minister, as the new “State Minister for Tourism Affairs”.

The order, criticised by many because it had bypassed parliament, included no other details, such as the ministry’s aims or budget.

Afghanistan boasts pristine mountains and medieval ruins, but many are located in areas plagued by insurgency, and insecurity and kidnappings have made life difficult for tourists in the country.

Last August Taliban insurgents attacked a group of American and European tourists in western Herat, a timeworn city near the Iranian border renowned for its citadel and blue-tiled mosque.

The attack, which left some of the tourists wounded, brought into sharp focus global thrill-seekers who imperil their lives to vacation in war zones.

Afghanistan has, however, welcomed travel to what it considers safe areas where Taliban militants — seeking to topple the government and return to power — are not deemed a threat.

A few such areas can be safely reached by air, such as the ancient city of Bamiyan, currently at the centre of efforts to boost tourism revenue.

Bamiyan is famous for gaping hillside niches that once sheltered giant Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban in 2001.

The surrounding province, a landscape of russet-hued cliffs, was once a caravan stop along the fabled Silk Road and also boasts Afghanistan’s first national park.

The northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, famous for its blue-tiled mosque, and the spectacular Panjshir Valley, known for its snowcapped peaks and precious stones, are some other relatively peaceful areas.

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