Following meetings with President Hamid Karzai and senior government ministers, including Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Minister of Justice Abdul Rahim Karimi, Prince Amyn made an extensive tour of the premises of the former Hotel Kabul, accompanied by the Minister of Civil Aviation and Tourism, Mr. Mirwais Sidiq, and the Mayor of Kabul, Mr. Mohamed Anwar Jekdelik.
"The Government of Afghanistan has invited us to address urgent development priorities in the nation's tourism industry by creating facilities of an international stature that will have an immediate, positive impact on the local economy as well as on the urban and cultural landscape of Kabul," said Prince Amyn, Director of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) and Chairman of its Executive Committee. "This project for an investment in Afghanistan 's hospitality sector," he continued, "will also allow us to contribute through the training of skilled manpower, the reinvigoration of artisanal and craft industries, and through an upgrading of the urban fabric in a sensitive manner. Clearly, the revival of tourism will be of major importance to this project for its long term future success."
The Kabul Serena Hotel (as the revitalised property will be called) is a Soviet era hotel built some 50 years ago amid handsome gardens. It dominates a busy junction in the city's commercial centre and overlooks Zanegar Park, an open public space whose rehabilitation the AKDN is expected to manage. In the past, the hotel has served as a refuge for the famous carved wooden effigies moved from Nuristan and other masterpieces that were moved in 1996 from the Kabul Museum. The building is expected to undergo a phased rehabilitation, refurbishing and upgrading and ultimately to incorporate up to 184 rooms with restaurants, banqueting, business conferencing, health and leisure facilities as well as a connected shopping area. The first phase, covering some 110 fully catered rooms, is planned to be completed by the fourth quarter of next year and the aim is to offer as soon as possible upgraded functioning facilities which can fulfill some of the city's need for international standard accommodation while the rest of the upgrading is being completed.
Award-winning architect Ramesh Khosla, who accompanied Prince Amyn on his visit to the hotel, will oversee the design of the project to be undertaken by his firm, ARCOP Associates of Montreal and New Delhi. Khosla, whose credits include the Mughal Sheraton in Agra, the Centrum in Los Angeles and the World Trade Centre Concourse in New York has already worked with AKFED on the Serena Hotels in Quetta and Faisalabad that have set standards of excellence in those cities. The Kabul hotel will reflect diverse elements of the cultures of the peoples of Afghanistan and will aim to establish an international landmark in Kabul.
Discussions are already underway with a leading Indian contractor to conclude an agreement for implementation of construction works. Preliminary cost of the construction is expected to reach up to US $ 25 million.
Prince Amyn also visited the site of the Bagh-e-Babur, the first Moghul "Paradise Garden" and precursor to many famous imperial gardens in the South Asian sub-continent. The park, which contains the tomb of the Emperor Babur, is being redeveloped under the leadership of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture with the involvement of the Afghan Ministry of Culture, UNESCO and the German government. The project entails redevelopment of the garden as a major public open space as well as the rehabilitation of neighborhood residential dwellings and public sanitation facilities.
Prince Amyn's visit to Kabul has also given the opportunity to formalize the establishment of an AKDN Mission in Afghanistan through the presentation of credentials by Prince Amyn under the Agreement of Cooperation for Development signed by President Karzai and His Highness the Aga Khan earlier this year.