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The dangerous lure of the unknown

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.

Peter Hornung, NDR

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

Gunmen opened fire on people in the center of the city of Bamyan, according to the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry. Three tourists and three Afghans died. In addition, four foreigners and three Afghans were injured. The three dead, we later learned, 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 – because 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 agent. He organizes tours through Afghanistan. Including to Bamyan in central Afghanistan. This is popular with tourists because the famous giant Buddha statues that were erected in rock niches are – or rather were – nearby. In March 2001, they were blown up under the first Taliban regime, to the horror of the world.

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 pure spirit of adventure that attracts people.

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

School preparation for guests from abroad

And when they are there, everything they can post on social media is posted. A Brit has himself 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 to be 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 clearly not true – on the contrary: Hardly any country is as dangerous as Afghanistan. The most dangerous is certainly the terrorist militia “Islamic State”, which carries out repeated attacks. It also claimed responsibility for the attack 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, 23.05.2024 10:15 a.m.

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