Kabul, Afghanistan, 20 November 2002 – Prince Amyn Aga Khan, younger brother of His Highness the Aga Khan, today announced a substantial investment by the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) to initiate tourism, commercial and urban redevelopment in the capital of Afghanistan through the establishment of a world-class hotel in the centre of Kabul.
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.
The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Africa and Asia. The Network’s agencies work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion and its underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is in excess of US$200 million.
During 2002, the AKDN has embarked upon an ambitious expansion of its humanitarian assistance work in Afghanistan to include a number of development initiatives addressing issues of food security, infrastructure rehabilitation, upgrading and support for healthcare and educational institutions, water and sanitation, revitalisation and urban development in Kabul and the need for investment in priority sectors of the economy such as microfinance, telecommunications and tourism. These follow on the commitment of US$75 million towards the reconstruction of Afghanistan announced by the Aga Khan in January this year.
The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) operates as a network of affiliates with more than 90 separate project companies employing over 15,000 people and is active in 17 countries in Asia and Africa: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Pakistan, Senegal, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Serena Hotels and Lodges enjoy a long-established reputation for the highest standards of comfort and service within environments that meticulously promote indigenous architectural, craft and cultural traditions. In the regions where they operate, Serena properties have been at the forefront of human resource development, of generating foreign exchange revenue, of providing employment to local residents and of bringing environmental sensitivity to the tourism industry in the region. Serena operates 22 hotels, inns, resorts, safari lodges and tented camps in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Pakistan and Tajikistan.