Darulaman Palace emerges from ruins as 'message of peace'
KABUL -- Inside an imposing building in Kabul, a team of welders hastily fuse a sweeping metal banister to a grand staircase. Outside, gardeners spray torrents of water over the parched earth, willing the grass to grow.
They have just days to finish a total renovation of the once-ruined Darulaman Palace, a hulking showpiece of Afghan architecture that came to symbolise the country's turmoils during decades of war.
With questions looming over Afghanistan's future and peace talks ongoing, the country this month is hoping to briefly celebrate its past -- and Darulaman will be the centrepiece.
Work at the famed palace has a firm deadline of August 19, the date marking 100 years of Afghan independence from Britain and when President Ashraf Ghani will inaugurate the newly renovated structure.
On August 19, 1919, London and Kabul signed the Anglo-Afghan Treaty in which Britain recognised Afghan independence and vowed that British India would not extend west beyond the Khyber Pass.
The final use for Darulaman -- which means "Abode of Peace" -- has not been decided, but at least part will become a museum.
Designed by German engineers for King Amanullah Khan in the early 1920s, Darulaman Palace was originally intended to be the location for Afghanistan's new parliament.
But over the years, because of shifting political currents, it has also seen a string of other uses including as a home for various government ministries, a medical school and a museum.
It was gutted by fire in 1968 and since then has been repeatedly caught up in Afghanistan's conflicts. It was again set ablaze during a coup attempt in 1978 and was subsequently shelled during fighting in the 1990s.
Perched on a hill with an imposing view of Kabul, Darulaman was a wreck until recently. Its roof was destroyed, its walls crumbling and pock-marked by bullet holes, and the once-magnificent neo-classical exterior covered in graffiti and appearing close to collapse.
But in 2016, Ghani ordered the palace's renovation, and after finalisation of design plans, construction work began in earnest in March 2018.
Reconstructing Darulaman is vital to Afghanistan, as the work promises a new beginning after so much conflict, said project manager Javid Hammad.
"The message of the Darulaman Palace is a message of peace, security, brotherhood and coexistence," Hammad told AFP during a recent tour of the site, where about 500 workers are toiling around the clock to finish the job.
The $10.5-million (822 million AFN) renovation has been a boon to Kabul's workforce. Cedar trimmings in high-ceilinged rooms that come from Kunar Province and marble fittings from Herat city mean that businesses around the country have benefitted.