Stunning cobalt-blue lakes with natural travertine dams in Band-e-Amir, the pristine, soaring Pamir Mountains, through which some of the world’s last snow leopards prowl—far from the simplistic, violent, and drab images preferred by the media, Afghanistan is a beautiful and multifaceted nation. Lonely Planet once described Afghanistan as a “vastly appealing country.” Having married into an Afghan family many years ago, I can attest that the culture is also extremely hospitable. Welcoming tourists to visit their beautiful nation is a logical extension of the Afghan culture. With such a rich and hospitable culture and unparalleled natural beauty, the post-conflict development of a responsible and sustainable tourism sector could benefit Afghanistan—especially in more remote areas. Before the wars and COVID-19, in the 1970’s, over 100,000 tourists per year visited Afghanistan. But there is hope for an end to the pandemic, and as of March, COVAX vaccines began to be administered. There is also some hope for a successful peace process.Afghanistan, Tourism, and Armed Conflict I must highlight at the outset of this article that the situation in Afghanistan remains extremely dangerous and in-flux, with the security outlook for the future unclear. The United States and multiple other governments warn against present travel there due to widespread violence, kidnappings, and suicide bombings. As of this writing, the peace process is floundering, and most of Afghanistan remains an extremely dangerous place to venture to.However, while a nation-wide, durable peace is hoped for in the future, there are more stable areas of Afghanistan. Bamiyan Province and the Wakhan Corridor were seeing tourists return, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Curiosity about this nation, with its extraordinary natural beauty and rare wildlife, is prompting eco- and adventure-tourists and those interested in the history and culture of Afghanistan to travel there, despite the dangers and warnings against going.
One might balk at the notion of a non-essential visit to Afghanistan since violence and bombings are a daily occurrence in the capital of Kabul. Yet, Bamiyan Province, in the Central Highlands, or the extremely remote Wakhan Corridor, which reaches out to touch the Chinese border—both unique in terms of their nature—are more peaceful areas of Afghanistan. Tourism programs must be developed with careful planning to benefit the people of Afghanistan who have suffered greatly over the past four decades of near-continuous armed conflict.Sustaining Local People’s Well-beingThe United Nations designated 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, in part to educate people on how tourism can play a positive role in development. Sustainable Tourism is defined by the UN as “tourism to support economies without disrupting local cultures and the ecological foundation that the industry and/or activities are founded on.” “Adventure travelers” seek to combine travel with sport or rigorous physical activity, such as mountain climbing or unique experiences in nature. Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” Sustaining local people’s well-being is critically important, but has not always happened. Tourists can and should help Afghanistan’s economy grow—not cause more problems for the nation.There is no doubt that tourism can bring in hard currency and livelihoods to regions that have few other options. According to the World Trade Organization, 10 percent of world’s GDP is from travel and tourism. If not implemented with care, however, tourism can exploit local communities, trample natural areas, and have unintended negative consequences such as making wildlife more dependent on humans. If done responsibly, tourism can play a vital role for the local community. It can provide desperately needed jobs in remote areas, preserve cultural heritage, create cultural exchange, and help raise funds for conservation efforts. Beautiful BamiyanWhile researching this article, I was surprised to learn that Bamiyan, Afghanistan is currently welcoming visitors from nations without COVID-19 travel restrictions. The city’s giant Buddhas, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, have come back to life as 3-D holographic light projections. Bamiyan also has important archaeological sites, such as caves holding some of the world’s first oil paintings dating back 14 centuries, and a fledgling ski industry.
Bamiyan has a unique and progressive history including Afghanistan’s first female provincial governor, Dr. Habiba Sarabi. A friend of mine who is from Bamiyan, named Sattar, asked me to stress how “open-minded, hospitable, and friendly the people of Bamiyan are towards national/international tourists and visitors.” The people of Bamiyan are also a different tribe from the Taliban who are not welcome in the Province.This stability made Bamiyan attractive to potential tourists before the pandemic. Gul Hussain Baizada, a Tourism Consultant & Tour-Guide for Silk Road Afghanistan Travel in Bamiyan, told me that he is optimistic that Bamiyan can restart its tourism sector fully once the tourists are able to safely return. “We hope one day Bamiyan will become a main tourism destination,” Gul told me in an email, noting the potential for the region. He also wrote that the tourism sector needs government support, tourism infrastructure, and more investment from the private sector to ensure the industry is sustainable. Better access to Bamiyan by air is also critical, as accessing the city by road from Kabul is extremely dangerous.
The Wild Wakhan CorridorOne of the last truly remote and pristine locations on earth, the Wakhan Corridor is home to the 4,200 square miles of Wakhan National Park. The park has rare and varied wildlife. Ecotourism would support the local communities, who are closely involved in the park’s management.The Wakhan is so remote that it has remained relatively insulated from the conflict. The remoteness also makes it a stunningly beautiful region, attractive for any hearty adventure traveler or wildlife enthusiast.Adventure traveler Matthew Karsten told me about his journey to the Wakhan Corridor, saying “I believe there is great potential for future ecotourism in Afghanistan. It’s a beautiful country and could certainly benefit from sustainable tourism business models while providing a very memorable experience for visitors. After traveling to many different countries over the years, it has remained one of my favorites!”Post-Conflict Tourism, Peacebuilding, and AfghanistanThe development of tourism sectors following armed conflicts can support peacebuilding and environmental conservation by providing livelihoods, if carefully planned with the well-being of the community and environment in mind. For example, birdwatching tours have provided much needed livelihoods in post-conflict Colombia following the 2016 peace agreements—this example could provide lessons learned for Afghan tourism companies as they grow. I hope to be amongst the first tourists to visit Bamiyan once Afghanistan is post-COVID-19 and post-conflict! Elizabeth B. Hessami, J.D., LL.M., is a Faculty Lecturer of International Environmental Policy for the Johns Hopkins University. She is also a Visiting Attorney for the Environmental Law Institute researching post-conflict natural resources management with a focus on Afghanistan.Sources: ABC News, City News 1130, Daily Mail, Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, Expert Vagabond, International Ecotourism Society, Let’s Be Friends Afghanistan, Michigan State University, One Green Planet, Pamir Times, Relief Web, Sula Travel Agency, Travel Agent Central, U.S. Department of State, Washington Post, and the World Tourism Organization.
Is Afghanistan safe 2020?
Afghanistan – AVOID ALL TRAVELAvoid all travel to Afghanistan due to the security situation, terrorist attacks, ongoing armed conflict, risk of kidnapping and high crime rate. Canada’s evacuation operations have ended. The risk for terrorist attacks is very high, especially around the airport. Until the security situation has stabilized, you should shelter in a safe place. Keep in mind that you are responsible for your own safety and that of your family.The Embassy of Canada in Afghanistan has suspended its operations. Our ability to provide consular assistance and other support in this country is extremely limited. Canadians in need of consular assistance should contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre.We strongly recommend that Canadians sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service to receive important information.
What was Afghanistan before?
The history of Afghanistan as a state began in 1823 as the Emirate of Afghanistan after the fall of the predecessor, the Afghan Durrani Empire, considered the founding state of modern Afghanistan. The written recorded history of the land presently constituting Afghanistan can be traced back to around 500 BCE when the area was under the Achaemenid Empire, although evidence indicates that an advanced degree of urbanized culture has existed in the land since between 3000 and 2000 BCE. Bactria dates back to 2500 BCE. The Indus Valley Civilisation stretched up to large parts of Afghanistan in the north. Alexander the Great and his Macedonian army arrived at what is now Afghanistan in 330 BCE after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire during the Battle of Gaugamela. Since then, many empires have established capitals in Afghanistan, including the Greco-Bactrians, Kushans, Indo-Sassanids, Kabul Shahi, Saffarids, Samanids, Ghaznavids, Ghurids, Kartids, Timurids, Hotakis and Durranis.
Why is Afghanistan so dry?
Millions of Afghans are struggling to put food on the table as prolonged drought disrupts supplies in a country reeling from a surge in violence as U.S.-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal.Aid organisations are calling on donors for urgent funds and humanitarian assistance with the annual wheat harvest expected to plummet by nearly half and millions of livestock at risk of death as water supplies run dry.”
It’s a multiple shock,” said Necephor Mghendi, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Afghanistan.Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.comRegister”Generally, there has been an impact on availability and distribution of food … and the conflict is causing internal displacement, which means increased demand for resources in certain regions.”The entire country is facing moderate to severe drought, President Ashraf Ghani said in late June, acknowledging that the national disaster management budget was not enough to cover what experts say is one of the worst droughts in decades in terms of geographic scale.”
We … will not allow the country to face famine,” Ghani said in a statement. “Our effort is to address all districts, even those under the Taliban control.”
The Islamist insurgents have stepped up their campaign to defeat Ghani’s U.S.-backed government as foreign forces leave after 20 years of conflict and have swept into numerous rural districts across the country.With very little functioning irrigation, Afghanistan relies on snow melting in its mountains to keep its rivers flowing and fields watered during the summer and snowfall last winter was again very low.Fahad Saeed, a climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said a La Niña phenomenon and a weakening jet stream moving weather systems more slowly across the planet could be factors behind Afghanistan’s extremely dry weather.While it is difficult to link individual events to climate change, scientists agree that global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions is contributing to extreme weather around the world.”
Afghanistan is a good example of climate injustice. It has historically no role in the climate change mess but they are bearing the brunt of it,” Saeed said. Afghanistan was one of 23 countries the United Nations identified as “hunger hotspots” in a report last month, with at least 12 million people out of a population estimated at 36 million facing a food security crisis of not knowing when or where their next meal will come from.The IFRC is trying to raise US$16.5 million but has managed less than half of that, Mghendi said.”It’s a dire humanitarian situation that requires as much support as possible to get the very basics,” Mghendi said.”Every dollar will help somebody.