| Osama bin Laden
London, Dec. 4: The Afghan authorities plan to invigorate the country's fledgling tourist industry by developing Osama bin Laden's Tora Bora mountain hideout as a visitor attraction.
Hassamuddin Hamrah, the man in charge, believes that the caves which once housed bin Laden and his fighters, together with the remains of mangled Russian tanks and crashed helicopter gunships from the 1980s, will prove a tourist magnet.
But he said the plan was being undermined by scrap metal merchants from across the border in Pakistan who were taking the wrecked military hardware.
'We wished to keep the artillery, tanks, aircraft and also the military posts and front lines. But the Pakistanis have frustrated our plans,' Hamrah said.
'They were coming and buying the metal scraps so a lot of people took these things to Pakistan. The things we thought existed have been taken away.'
It is a popular saying in Logar province, south of Kabul, that the Russian artillery shells were not cold before the high quality steel was being sold across the border to the scrap dealers.
'We have plans to make a tourist site at the Tora Bora caves. Many Americans wish to go there,' Hamrah said.
'Our main problem is lack of budget so we are approaching the private sector. We request that anybody, any company, who is interested should contact us.'
He added that three Japanese tour company bosses had already visited the site, high in the White Mountains near Jalalabad.
The extraordinary complex of caves and bunkers was created during the 1980s as a mountain fastness by the Mujahideen, and expanded at bin Laden's expense in the 1990s. It is reported to include barracks, lavish living quarters and tunnel systems large enough to hide armoured vehicles.
In October 2001, American B-52s pounded Tora Bora with Daisy-Cutter liquid fuel bombs to try to winkle out bin Laden and his followers.
Bin Laden escaped and is still at large, probably still near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Afghan Civil Aviation and Tourism Ministry believes that the country's notoriety is a strong pull for adventurous tourists. 'We have a lot of historical places but Afghanistan is known all over the world because of the war,' Dr Hamrah said.
With this is mind the Tourism Ministry also hopes to develop some of the great battlefields of the Soviet occupation as tourist destinations.
Tourism was once a major industry for Afghanistan. In the 1960s and 1970s the country was a key stopping point on the Hippy Trail from Europe to India ' famed for its spectacular scenery, ancient ruins and local intoxicants. But the Russian invasion of 1979 placed Afghanistan off limits and, for 25 years, it has remained in tourist limbo.
Now the first visitors are returning. The latest issue of the Lonely Planet Central Asia guide is the first to include a section on the country.
Previous editions contained a two word entry on Afghanistan: 'Don't go!' Since the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan tourist board has hosted 35 tour groups, numbering some 247 people, mainly from Europe and Japan.
The aid community in Kabul was astonished by the appearance in September of a tour party of septuagenarian Californians who arrived on the day of a large car bomb. One of the group, who were napping as their hotel was rocked by the blast, described the experience as 'a pretty loud wake up call'.
The kidnap of three United Nations workers in October and a suicide bomb on a Kabul street that killed a young American woman have put the expatriate community on high alert.
But Dr Hamrah dismissed any scaremongering. 'We have sent groups to the farthest parts of the country. They have come back safely and are saying that the people welcomed them warmly.'