On May 30, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced an ambitious project to restore the ruins of Darul Aman Palace, a majestic building on the south-western edges of Kabul that has witnessed the many upheavals in the country since the 1920s.
Built by King Amanullah Khan, who defeated the British in a battle in 1918 to gain full independence for Afghanistan, the neoclassical palace became one of the landmarks of the city. Its construction was part of a project to modernise Afghanistan, and its reconstruction is meant to signal a new future for the nation.
Darul Aman Palace was ravaged by a fire in the 1960s, restored, gutted again, and then damaged further when rival mujahideen factions battled bitterly to take control of Kabul in the 1990s and the building became a focal point of fighting.
I was introduced to the palace through a memoir of Syed Mujtaba Ali, a Bengali scholar who lived and taught in Kabul in the late 1920s. When I began visiting Afghanistan in 2002 as a journalist, I was eager to see the sight once witnessed by Mujtaba Ali. Instead, there stood a skeleton of a structure at the edge of Kabul overlooking the city.
I wanted to see and photograph the ruins from inside but they were still under the possession of the Ministry of Defence and one needed permission to go in. The permission finally came in 2012 and I visited the palace thrice thereafter.
Even though it seemed the building might collapse, the inside strangely looked robust. There was still soot on parts of the ceiling. In some sections, the sky was visible from the basement because artillery shells had pierced through the roof and the two floors.
As I trained my camera at the ruins, I felt that the palace, in ways, symbolised Afghanistan and its people – beaten down for ages yet refusing to give up.