This is no place for tourists

Jan 15 2013, 14:01 IST
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SummaryUnder a constant threat from the Taliban, tourism is all but wiped out in Afghanistan

Rod Nordland

The Taliban have a message for foreign tourists who come to Afghanistan, especially if they are from any of the 50 countries that are part of the NATO-led coalition supporting the government: big mistake.

“It is part of our war strategy to target any foreign citizen whose country has a military presence in Afghanistan and enters our country without permission from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said Zabiullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the insurgents in northern and eastern Afghanistan.

The US government has pretty much the same message. “No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence,” the US State Department’s latest travel advisory says. “There is an ongoing and increased risk of kidnapping and assassination of US citizens,” it also says.

And yet, some tourists do still come.

Two of those who did were a newlywed couple, a pregnant American woman and her Canadian husband, who apparently arrived in Afghanistan in early October and disappeared by mid-October, reportedly kidnapped in an insurgent area. According to their family, they have not been heard from since. Another two were a wealthy Russian couple, who hired an armoured car and bodyguards at $1,500 a day, stayed in the $356-a-night Kabul Serena Hotel and went home on schedule.

“Until 2005, we were driving tourists everywhere,” said Muqim Jamshady, the owner of Afghan Logistics and Tours, who says his company is the only one still catering to foreign visitors. “Now we are operating still, but very carefully.”

Few tourist destinations are as exotic as Afghanistan, with some of the world’s most rugged, snowcapped mountains in the Hindu Kush and Pamir ranges, ancient Buddhist monuments and stunning Islamic architecture, like the elegant Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Jamshady says he often discourages prospective tourists, especially those who want to come in groups. “We really tell them, don’t come on your own, come through a friend who works in an NGO,” he said. “Security is the priority for us. We don’t want to ruin the reputation of our company. Pure tourists, I would say there are only 100 to 150 a year.”

Tourism was all but wiped out by 2008. Since then, the number of places that are safe to visit has dwindled steadily. “We didn’t host a single tourist guest last year, and the year before there were only a few of them,” said Abdul Saboor Shafaq, the owner of the Silk Road hotel in

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