Afghanistan is a potential tourism destination, if given some proper attention on this. There is an Afghan Tour department, but they are like the symbolic office-bearers sitting in there without any strategy and plan for this sector. There is considerable number of tourists who visit the country. These are generally the informed common people who know the difference between the peaceful parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban strongholds, and who have an understanding that not everyone from Afghanistan has a crazy conservative thinking and way of life.
Tourism is an important industry of any country's economy. But unfortunately there has been no effort at all, by the Government to promote tourism in Afghanistan. Beside the Government inefficiency, insurgency has been another reason. But there are many tourist sites in the safest parts of Afghanistan. The western media generally reports "Insurgency in Afghanistan" whenever there is any incident in any part of the country. This negative and exaggerative reporting makes the western tourists think of entire Afghanistan as insurgency-hit. Insecurity is limited to some Southern and Southeastern parts of Afghanistan. But whenever there is a bomb blast or explosion, media reports it in a way that Afghanistan is getting insecure every day. Thus many international tourists avoid coming to this country.
It's a fact that there are many tourism sites in the safest parts of 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.
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 after eight years of international pouring billions of dollars in development in Afghanistan. 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.
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. The road construction project from the center of the province to the lakes will be completed very soon. But the road from Kabul to Bamyan should also be paced up and completed 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 every year. 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.
Western media can also help the downtrodden province by reporting about the beautiful tourism sites of Bamyan, the giant Buddha statues and the beautiful group of lakes. Bamyan is the most peaceful province of Afghanistan, thus international tourists should flock without any security fear. The government should wake up, and those at the Afghan Tour department should come out of their offices and know about the great potential of tourism in Afghanistan, still at the time of a war with Taliban.