Tourists in Afghanistan: Dangerous attraction of the unknown

As of: May 23, 2024 11:37 a.m

More and more tourists are visiting Afghanistan – despite Taliban rule and the threat of attacks. Most recently, three Spaniards were killed there. The Foreign Office advises those who travel there anyway to take special precautions.

There were disturbing images that were spread across social media last weekend. A person, apparently dead, is lifted up by his hands and legs by two men, with a pool of blood beneath him. The body is hoisted into an ambulance, where another dead man already lies.

Gunmen opened fire on people in the center of the city of Bamyan, according to a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. Three tourists died and three Afghans. Four foreigners and three Afghans were also injured. The three dead, we later learn, were Spaniards.

Briton Joe Sheffer was where it happened on Monday. “The attack site is in the middle of the bazaar in Bamyan. Today it looks completely normal – as things are back to normal,” he says. The only difference: There are many more security forces here, the likes of which you don’t normally see in Bamyan.

tourist numbers increase from year to year

Joe Sheffer is a travel entrepreneur. He organizes tours through Afghanistan. Also to Bamyan in central Afghanistan. This is popular with tourists because it is near here – or rather were – the famous giant Buddha statues built in rock niches. In March 2001 they were blown up under the first Taliban regime, to the horror of the world public.

Only ruins remain of the approximately 1,500-year-old Buddha statues in Afghanistan.

The foreigners who come now can only see the remains. But tourists from abroad are actually coming again: just over 2,000 two years ago, around 7,000 last year, and this year there will probably be more again. It is probably mainly the desire for adventure that attracts people.

“Afghanistan is a place that has captured the imagination of travelers for hundreds of years. And more recently it has also been considered a forbidden place where you can’t really get to. I think that’s what’s attracting a lot of people now, because Now you can come here and you want to take advantage of the opportunity,” estimates travel entrepreneur Sheffer.

School preparation for guests from abroad

And when they’re there, what’s going on is posted on social media. A British man is filmed talking to young people about cricket. They actually barely understand each other, but it’s enough for a video on Instagram.

The government in Kabul supports this type of tourism. There is a deputy minister who is responsible for it. And there is now even a school where young Afghans are prepared for the tourists. So few people come that local media regularly report on groups of visitors – and the foreigners are accordingly admired. Nevertheless, Western governments advise against visiting the country.

IS attack targeted EU citizens

Travel entrepreneur Sheffer sees things differently, of course. Despite the latest attack, the security situation remains many times better than it was before 2021, he says: “It was the Taliban who led the uprising before. And they are now in power. Whether it’s explosive devices, roadside bombs, explosions, kidnappings – most of that is gone. By and large, the country is safe and so are the travelers.”

But that is obviously not true – on the contrary: hardly any country is as dangerous as Afghanistan. The most dangerous is certainly the terrorist militia “Islamic State,” which repeatedly carries out attacks. She also admitted to what happened last weekend. It was therefore expressly directed against EU citizens.

But Taliban members, especially in rural areas, have also detained tourists, sometimes for days and months. And if you have an accident, it is difficult to get qualified medical help. It is not without reason that the Foreign Office recommends that if you absolutely have to travel to Afghanistan, you make a will beforehand.

Peter Hornung, ARD New Delhi, tagesschau, May 23, 2024 10:15 a.m

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