Cablegate: International Support for Afghanistan's Nascent

DE RUEHBUL #3043/01 2730746
O 300746Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) SUMMARY: The Aga Khan Foundation's tourism project
in Bamyan is making steady progress towards realization of
the province's tourism potential. The project has completed
nearly 70 initiatives including the opening of a tourism
center and production of an annual three-day Silk Road
Festival. The majority of visitors to Afghanistan's most
important tourist area have so far been Afghans, but a modest
number of foreigners have contributed to provincial tourism
sector revenues, predicted to reach US$300,000 in 2009.
Despite good progress, Bamyan's ability to realize its full
tourism potential in the near term is hindered by road and
air access to the province, poor basic infrastructure, and,
according to Governor Sarobi, chronic discrimination from
Kabul. USG funding of NGOs has played a critical role,
especially in the establishment earlier this year of
Band-e-Amir as Afghanistan's first national park. The Bamyan
Provincial Reconstruction Team has funded road improvement
expected to cut travel time from Kabul by 50 percent. The
ultimate validation of the province's success as a tourist
destination may be the return of both Afghan and regional
tourists to Bamyan. END SUMMARY

NGO Aga Khan Leading the Tourism Charge
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2. (U) Recently, the Aga Khan Foundation chaired a two-hour
meeting on tourism in which Governor Sarobi and
representatives from the United Nations Assistance Mission to
Afghanistan (UNAMA), the United Nations Environment Program
(UNEP), the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), and several
ministries participated. Through its tourism initiative
(largely funded by the New Zealand aid agency, NZAID), Aga
Khan has become the driving force behind building and growing
Bamyan's nascent tourism industry. Starting with the
establishment of an Ecotourism Office in late 2008, the
project has been busy, completing nearly 70 activities
ranging from intensive training courses that have trained
dozens of guides and marketing activities to study trips and
staging first three-day Silk Road Festival, planned to be
held in June each year. The project intends to time the
launch of its website (www.bamyantourism) with the natf 7,000 beautifully-made
tourism brochures (developed with the assistance of USAID and
the Wildlife Conservation Society and currently being printed
in Pakistan). The project is also in the initial stages of
building a visitor database.

3. (U) While Aga Khan,s Eco-Tourism Program has become the
main focal point for developing Bamyan,s tourism potential,
USG efforts have also been instrumental. USAID has supported
three NGOs, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the
environmental consulting company ECODIT, and the
International Center for Integrated Mountain Development,
each of which has worked to establish Band-e-Amir as
Afghanistan's first national park. WCS developed the park's
management plan and is currently negotiating revenue benefit
sharing options with several GIROA ministries. WCS is also
working toward the establishment of two protected areas, one
in Bamyan,s Aja Valley (the former royal hunting grounds)
and the other in Badakshan Province, and has submitted a new
5-year plan concept note to USAID.

Low Numbers, But Promising Growth
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4.(U) Aga Khan representatives reported that 1,750 visitors
purchased tickets to see the site of the former Bamyan
Buddhas in 2008 of which 950 were Afghans and 800 were
foreigners. This year, 1,709 (1,155 Afghans, 554 foreigners)
tickets have been sold. With three months remaining in the
year, the total number of visitors should easily exceed 2008
figures. In 2008, the three main hotels reported a combined
total of 1,050 guests. In the five-month period between
April and August of this year, these establishments reported
770 guests. Estimates predict that the two biggest hotels -
Silk Road Hotel and Rooftop of Bamyan - will earn a combined
$100K in revenues in 2009. Province-wide revenue estimates
for tourism in 2009 are US$300,000. The goal for 2010 is

Main Challenges
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5.(U) While the Aga Khan project, in coordination with
provincial government authorities, is making steady progress
creating a solid basis for tourism, several challenges

KABUL 00003043 002 OF 002

remain. Not surprisingly, poor infrastructure remains the
primary problem. Today, there is no commercial airline
service to Bamyan and the provincial authorities' seeming
inability to secure the runway from foot, vehicle, and animal
traffic leaves the province teetering on the edge of losing
even aid agency and USG flights. There is also an on-going
land dispute between the government and four villages which
have reportedly never been compensated for expropriated land
and threaten to cut down fences erected around the airport's
perimeter. By road, potential tourists face a daunting 7-8
hour car ride from Kabul along difficult and, in some parts,
dangerous roads. CERP-funded work is under way along a 16km
section of road from Bamyan to a point 8km inside Parwan. A
request for additional CERP funds has been made for two other
sections of the road totaling 29km. The Italians are
responsible for the last 15km of road into Bamyan city, but
no work is yet underway on this section.

6. (SBU) In addition to these access issues, the province
suffers from a severe lack of general tourism infrastructure
and services - hotel space, a reasonable selection of dining
options, and transportation services. Although strides have
been made in training, marketing, and preparing for tourism,
Bayman Governor Habiba Sarobi remains frustrated. She told a
senior Mission delegation visiting on September 26 that
tourism development is her number one priority for the
province. She has also accused the central government of
discriminating against the Hazaran people, claiming that
their efforts are stifled or rejected by central government
authorities in Kabul. She cited one recent incident
involving Band-e-Amir National Park in which, despite having
reached agreement with local residents to build a campsite
area and guest houses, the Ministry of Agriculture in Kabul
wrote a harsh letter to Governor Sarobi forbidding the
project from moving forward.

Recent Successes Highlight Potential
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7. (U) Bamyan's success in tourist development will
ultimately require the support and participation of a broad
base of stakeholders. An excellent example of the power of
such collaboration is the recent success of the province's
week-long celebration of Peace Day. Successful
implementation of the over 20 public activities required the
participation and cooperation of the Eco-Tourism Program,
UNAMA, UNEP, the Governor's office, youth groups, the PRT,
and several other local organizations. The week's main event
) a 12-mile Peace Trek on September 25 ) saw the
participation of over 250 people, including approximately 40
visitors representing nearly a dozen different international
organizations, dozens of children and teens, and a large
contingent of men and women from the local communities where
the event was staged. The following evening, Governor Sarobi
and the Eco-tourism office, with significant
behind-the-scenes support from the PRT, hosted a cultural
evening to celebrate traditional music, dance, handicrafts,
and food. There were approximately 80 people in attendance
including the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, the
Belgian Ambassador, senior USAID officials, a Japanese
Embassy representative, CJTF and TF Cyclone Senior Civilian
Representatives, TF Cyclone,s Commanding General,
journalists, and representatives from UN agencies and NGOs.
During the event, Governor Sarobi emphasized the importance
of tourism to Bamyan,s future development and underscored
the importance of national and international collaboration to
make this dream come true.
8. (U) While the ultimate validation of Bamyan's success as a
tourist destination may be perceived as the number of Western
tourists who visit the province, of much greater importance
-- and a true measure of success -- is the return of both
Afghan and regional tourists to Bamyan. While the number of
paying visitors to the Buddhas site is still small, over
20,000 people visited Band-e-Amir lakes last year, the vast
majority of them Afghans. Of the 5,000-plus visitors to the
three-day Silk Road Festival held in June, nearly all were
Afghans. Without USAID,s funding support, it unlikely that
efforts to establish the Band-e-Amir National Park would have

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