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Afghanistan's first national park waits for tourists

It hopes to attract adventurous visitors – but a surge in violence and development woes put that at risk.

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Ban-e-Amir ('Dam of the Amir') is high in the Baba Mountains of central Afghanistan. It was popular with tourists in the 1970s

Ben Arnoldy/The Christian Science Monitor

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It's got the soaring mesas of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley, the contrasts of oranges and reds found in the Grand Canyon, and the snow-dolloped peaks of the Rockies – all in one place.

That's how Dennis, a tourist from Colorado, tries to put the beauty of Band-e-Amir in context, as he helps his German friend Lukas (they decline to give last names) pitch their tent by one of the area's famed travertine lakes.

"I've never seen any other lake of that stunning blue," Lukas says.

On June 18, Band-e-Amir will be officially inaugurated as Afghanistan's first national park. International organizations, the Afghan government, and local villagers are all hoping that the designation will inspire more tourists to come to this war-ravaged nation.

The idea may sound quixotic, given the surge in Taliban violence and US troop deployments here. But the park lies in the safest region of the country, in the Baba Mountains of central Afghanistan – a mixed blessing, since foreign donors have focused their help on hot spots first.

The park's fruition has also been hampered by problems that hinder other Afghan development projects, including slow government decisionmaking, tensions between jet-setting coordinators and rural locals, and disappearing money. And, as with other projects, this one seems to be getting in gear just as security is slipping.

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