Rebuilding the Palace of Peace In May 2016, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan announced the reconstruction of Darulaman Palace, stating “[t]oday we witness returning to the past while building a foundation for the future”. Built in the 1920s, Darulaman Palace, which translates to “Palace of Peace” but is often described as the “wounded soul” of the nation, is a symbol of the competing forces of conflict and reform in Afghanistan.
Originally commissioned in the 1920s by the reform-minded King Amanullah Khan in an effort to modernize Afghanistan, the palace suffered from the many conflicts that enveloped Afghanistan over the last century. Forced from power in 1929 by religious conservatives, Amanullah himself was never able to use the palace for its intended purpose as a new seat of government. From the Soviet invasion in the 1970s onwards, the palace fell victim to the upheavals that plagued Afghanistan and has the battle scars to prove it. With the palace’s reconstruction, the government hopes it can once again become the center of a new government quarter, a tourist attraction, and, most importantly, a symbol of the country’s resilience and a mechanism for reform.
Two significant factors must be noted. The palace is being restored exclusively with Afghan money, by an Afghan-only workforce, and for an Afghan price tag: $20 million has been budgeted for the four-year project as compared to $200 million projected by US experts. Secondly, a surprising 25% of the professional staff are women. Taken together, these two pieces have the potential to deliver a powerful message about the future of Afghanistan - the country can only be rebuilt through the participation, commitment, and expertise of all Afghans working together.
This sentiment is captured by Zahra Jafari, a female electrical engineer working on the reconstruction. “Our participation in this important project breaks the taboo that considers women to be too weak to work on construction projects,” Jafari told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It’s a huge responsibility on each and every one of us… [a]nd we want to prove that women are capable of implementing national projects.”
Experts have expressed hope that the project is on track to be completed in time for the country’s centennial in 2019. In December 2016, President Ghani announced the completion of the first phase of the palace's reconstruction at a cost of only $3 million and launched the second phase of the project. If all goes according to plan, the palace’s reconstruction will be a symbol of hope for a country riddled by conflict and may even pave a path for other national reconstruction projects. This is a big testament to the country’s resilience, and even more so that so much of the work is being carried out by women.
“By working on this project, we are contributing to the reconstruction of our country and empowering women,” Jafari continued to tell Reuters. “I hope it changes the views of the outside world about Afghan women too.”