DENVER (CBS4) – It is another crossroads in the difficult history of Afghanistan. Two major events are taking place that will play a big role in determining if it is on the path to peace and prosperity or turn another corner down a very dark road.
First is the outcome of the presidential election. With Hamid Karzai leaving center stage the outlook is uncertain on how a new leader will impact the deep divisions within the country.
Second will be the departure of the U.S. troops that helped drive the Taliban from government control after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.
Regardless, on the drawing broad is a major plan for what is being called “Kabul New City.” It is to be a community the size of Denver. It will be north of where the old Kabul now stands. Battered by combat with the Russians, the Taliban takeover and then changed hands with the arrival of the U.S. aided Northern Alliance, the wishful look ahead is to a new city with a brighter future.
The Afghan embassy in Washington confirms Denver developer Rafaat Ludin and his company IHFD (International Home Finance and Development) have a contract to develop at least 6,400 housing units in a section of Kabul New City. Originally from Afghanistan and now an American citizen, Ludin told CBS4 the project is “comparable to the Stapleton district of Denver.” He said he conceived the project in 2006 with the agreement finally signed in September 2013.
IHFD has hired other Colorado companies to take part in the new Kabul project. Among them are urban designer Civitas, Martin and Martin an engineering firm, AEcom the project manage and architectural firm Lantz-Boggio.
Mark Baker is a design architect. So far he has made two trips to Afghanistan on behalf of Lantz-Boggio.
“It’s a rough place,” he said. “There was frozen trash on the street.”
With a war going on he saw plenty of guns. He described Kabul as a ring of steel, a security zone with machine gun nests at every intersection and the Afghan National Army searching everyone.
On Baker’s first trip to Kabul a member of the Taliban managed to penetrate that “ring of steel,” driving in with high explosives. But someone managed to kill the Taliban bomber before he could hit the button for detonation.
“The overall strategy for my safety is to blend in,” Baker told CBS 4.
With fair skin and being 6-foot-4, that’s not easy. His transport was in regular vehicles, feeling they were safer than armor-plated ones that can provide an easy target to pick out.
What this “New City” will look like is visible in this video.
Baker’s second trip was with Raafat Ludin and members of the design team. They made presentations to the agency overseeing the Kabul New City project. It will include homes, apartments, mosques, schools, clinics, bazaars and more.
Designing buildings for Colorado and other locations in the United States is their usual artist’s palette.
“It is true that it is hard to design to fit a culture,” Baker said.
He added that they have people in Afghanistan assisting with the plans. He emphasized their section of new Kabul will have security in mind. The “new design will revert back to traditional Islamic architecture to create neighborhoods safe for children and other people again.”
Baker said with the design presented, when people enter a neighborhood they will be noticed.
”If it is a stranger they can see that and protect their kids. There will be control points so that people won’t be able to get very far before somebody approaches you,” he said.
Rafaat says financing is all arranged on the $1.5 billion project. Now that elections have taken place developers think it will take 6 months to begin, then 6 years to design and build the first parcel. They hope to break ground late 2014 or early 2015.
The withdrawal of U.S. forces is a big question mark.
“We are fairly confident that the pullout of U.S. troops will not negatively impact this project. However, our investors are concerned. To increase their comfort level we have applied for political risk insurance, which caters to country risk, through the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and private reinsurers. The insurance approval is pending the outcome of the elections,” Ludin said.
Afghanistan has been America’s longest war. It remains to be seen if its legacy will lead to projects like the new Kabul or if the country will revert back to the violence and instability that has marred so much of its recent history.