Afghans ride wave of optimism with £3.2m waterpark

The huge water slide at a public swimming pool in Kabul. Picture: Reuters
The huge water slide at a public swimming pool in Kabul. Picture: Reuters
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ARMED guards body search ­visitors at the door, and no adult women are to be seen.

But apart from those everyday aspects of deeply conservative Afghan society, inside a nondescript building in the heart of the battle-hardened capital, Kabul, local people are ­shrugging off their cares and having fun.

For the building houses a new £3.2 million state-of-the art water park, which is attracting crowds of Afghans who love to splash in its pools and careen down its colourful slides and flumes. “They have really built a very good pool. I can’t believe it,” said one visitor, Fahim Maeel, a company manager.

The creators of the complex are among the few in Kabul not wringing their hands over Afghanistan’s future after 2014 when foreign combat troops are due to leave.

“When we decided to build this place, we knew that 2014 was to come,” said Mahmod ­Najafi, one of Kabul Water Park’s managers and shareholders. “For us, 2014 doesn’t mean anything.”

Just over a year ago, Mr Najafi and three partners clubbed together their resources to build the venue on a 24,760sq-ft plot near the parliament building.

In addition to towering slides, there is a wave pool which brings screams of delight from adult swimmers that one might expect from children visiting the beach for the first time. The men wear swimming shorts rather than the more revealing trunks favoured in the West.

In a city where the average wage is about £32 a week, a thriving middle class can afford the admission price of 500 Afghanis (£5.60).

“I am really proud when I see such developments,” said Fahim Khan, a 26-year-old university student.

The popular facility, which can handle up to 1,000 customers at any one time, also has a restaurant, whirlpool, sauna and extensive play area for young children, including girls who are allowed to mix with the ­opposite sex until the age of about ten. Women have made progress in education, health and work in a conservative Muslim society but most still wear the head-to-toe burqa enforced by the Taleban when the fundamentalist movement ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

Segregation of the sexes and limits on the public activities of women remain the norm.

With Afghanistan dependent on foreign aid, ventures such as the Kabul Water Park are a rare but reassuring sign that the economy may be able to sustain itself as donations shrink.

“We have provided jobs for 70 people and we have provided a good environment for our young generation,” Mr Najafi said. “My message to other Afghan businessmen is that if we don’t invest because of concerns about 2014, we will remain backward. Every Afghan has to work individually to promote this country.”

Voters are due to elect a new president in April in what many hope will mark Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power. But the cast of former warlords as candidates, and unusual alliances, have provoked concern among human rights groups.

President Hamid Karzai, in power since US-led coalition forces ousted the Taleban in 2001, is barred from running for a third term but his older brother Qayum has registered as a candidate.