Published  05/07/2006

Kabul Cabal

The city of Kabul is etched deep into British governmental and military annals; there were disastrous episodes in the mid-19th century. This should not remove from European or American awareness the ancient significance of the city, first destroyed in 1216 by Genghis Khan. Now, the sole remaining medieval remnant quarter of the city, Murad Khane, has attracted, despite all the current strife, the focus of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, whose joint presidents are the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and no less than Prince Charles. It could be said to be right up his street. The model chosen has been the Prince's Trust, to facilitate the restoration of a key quarter before all is lost. The idea is to establish a recognised heritage centre, equipped with schools for the revival of ancient Afghan skills directly relevant to the programme, such as calligraphy, ceramics and skilled woodwork. The Turquoise Mountain Foundation, named after the original capital 'centre' of the medieval city, has been consulting with the former diplomat, author, and traveller, 33-year-old Scot, Rory Stewart, who has been checking the site on the North Bank of the Kabul river to see if it will work out. But, archaeologically and architecturally, there is yet another mountain to climb: the 12-acre expanse of Murad Khane has been severely damaged over two decades of conflict. Notwithstanding this, today, typical Afghan street life has revived strongly, adjacent to the old merchant houses that still stand. As the protector of one of the ancient Shi'a shrines, Pahlawan Aziz, ruefully commented, 'It is fitting that the British who destroyed so much should now be restoring it'. It is timely that Stewart has diplomatic experience - from Iraq he has already spearheaded the raising of over £2 million over three years to contribute to the fulfilment of a preservation order already laid down by President Karzai. The Foundation proposes to restore as many as four of the superb merchants' houses for showcasing a future, reconstituted, fully operating Murad Khane quarter.

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