President Hamid Karzai officially opened the most luxurious hotel in destitute Afghanistan on Tuesday, with the five-star Kabul Serena touted as a means to lure investors and dollar-spending tourists.
The $36,5-million hotel, opposite the heavily fortified presidential palace, is an almost-total overhaul of the once-famous Kabul Hotel that was badly damaged in the 1992-1996 civil war that destroyed much of the capital.
With rooms starting at $250, five times the monthly salary of an average Afghan civil servant, it is beyond the means of most in a country rated among the poorest in the world.
The hotel was built at the request of the government that took over from the fundamentalist Taliban regime, removed in a United States-led campaign launched after it did not hand over Taliban ally Osama bin Laden for the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Officials say it is intended to stimulate the economy, ravaged by decades of war, through local hiring and sourcing and to provide the infrastructure required by investors and tourists.
The opening ceremony was attended by the Aga Khan, one of the world's richest men and the spiritual leader of 15-million Ismaili Muslims, whose Aga Khan Development Network is the key backer of the project.
Post-conflict countries did not need to resort to mediocrity as they rebuilt themselves, the Aga Khan said in an address.
Reconstruction is "an opportunity to draw upon the world's state-of-the-art technologies and standards, using them to jump-start the economy and to help bring it to a new and higher plane," he said.
"I cannot believe that replacing a collapsed society and environment with mediocrity is the right way for a destroyed country to rebuild for its future," he said.
The Aga Khan has signed a lease with the government to operate the hotel for 30 years. The new complex adds to 23 other Serena hotels and lodges run by the Aga Khan's group worldwide, most of them in developing countries.
Karzai said the hotel could be an example for the development of the rest of the rundown capital.
"Let's begin developing Kabul keeping the Serena hotel as the centre of it," he said. - AFP