Afghanistan has its first national park

Bamiyan province, with a population of about 400,000, is known for the gigantic Buddha statues carved into a cliff 1,500 years ago that the Taliban blew up in 2001.

Now, nearly eight years after the ruling Taliban regime was ousted from power by U.S.-led troops, this part of Afghanistan has virtually no signs of war — no mortar attacks or gunfire.

"Bamiyan is a victim of its own success," says Robert Watkins, the United Nations deputy envoy for Afghanistan. "It's probably the most secure and stable province in the entire country, and for that reason, there's less attention from the international community."

He says funding goes to areas where countries have troops fighting — in eastern and southern Afghanistan, where the current U.S. offensive is focused on Helmand province.

Frej of the USAID agrees. "A higher percentage of U.S. government resources is being shifted to unstable areas where U.S. soldiers are sacrificing so much for the Afghan people," he says. "We are finding that Bamiyan and other stable regions are progressing rapidly, and thus are able to make better use of the resources they receive."

Kazim, the community leader, was among a handful of villagers who met recently with Sarabi and U.N. officials to press for more aid to help local farmers.

He says the land management rules for the new park prevent farmers from planting crops near the lakes or from gathering shrubs needed for fuel.

"We are not allowed to cultivate wheat around the lake, so we do not have any other alternatives," he says.

Sarabi explains that in addition to the jobs it will create, Band-e-Amir is a place where local residents will be able to sell their products.

She acknowledges that the lack of a paved road is a problem, but hopes that a road — like the park — will eventually be built. "We are working on the road side," she says. "I will not stop lobbying."

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