Afghan warlord plans $100m ski resort fighter plans a Swiss-style resort

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The Independent Online

The mountains where the former warlord Izatullah Atif Rooz plans to build a $100m (£56m) mini-Switzerland, complete with ski slope and alpine chalets, were a killing ground just a few years ago.

The mountains where the former warlord Izatullah Atif Rooz plans to build a $100m (£56m) mini-Switzerland, complete with ski slope and alpine chalets, were a killing ground just a few years ago.

"Ninety-five per cent of the houses were destroyed. Seven hundred of my family and friends were killed," he said. His tribe fought the Soviets, then the fundamentalist warlord Hekmatyar, then the Taliban.

A canny man with a gentle manner and an immaculate white shalwar kameez, he knew nothing but fighting from the age of 19 until an old Afghan friend took him to Switzerland to see a different way of living. Soon he was back at the front.

Now Mr Rooz believes his battles are over. His 2,000-strong private army has been disbanded, 700 weapons, eight tanks and 20 cannon handed over to UN disarmers, and he has embarked on a new life as a venture capitalist.

He said: "We fought and killed because we had to. We beat the Soviets and our forefathers beat the British twice. So many people died. What benefit did Afghanistan get?"

Instead of forging alliances with warlords, he is now seeking partners among Swiss investment firms. An expansive sweep of his arm takes in the unappealingly green Lake Qargha behind him, with a muddy shore where the new city is to be built, and a rocky, sun-bleached mountain to the right that is expected, one day, to have a ski-run and snow machine.

Phase one, 600 homes, will be ready in three years' time, Inshallah (God willing), he said. It would be built by men from his former army and serve as an inspiration to other warlords who wonder uneasily what a future without mayhem would hold.

His business partner, Zemarey Hakimi, spent 34 years in Switzerland after falling in love with a woman who was taking a break at Lake Qargha while travelling the hippie trail to India in 1972. Mr Hakimi is sure his friend can do it, and will provide an example to other Afghan warlords that hard work and enterprise can be more effective than seeking government handouts.

"He is not just a fighter, he is an organiser. People like him will rebuild this country," Mr Hakimi said. "The problem with a lot of commanders is they fear they will lose respect and importance if they give up their armies."

The Taliban, just 18 miles away from Qargha, are another reason for the sluggish pace of disarmament and so is concern that US troops may pull out, leaving the uneasy peace to unravel. Mr Rooz warns that the Americans must be careful not to cause civilian casualties by bombing, and avoid offending villagers with house searches. Such blunders won support for the Taliban, he said.

Some fanatics aside, however, he is sure the people of Afghanistan have had enough of war. "That time is over," he said before leaving for a meeting with architects and planners.

Mr Rooz has been a rare success for a disarmament programme that has largely failed. Afghanistan is awash with up to 15 million weapons, and so far the programme has secured just 15,000. The record is better with heavy weapons, but only a fraction of the private armies have disbanded - about 14,000 men out of about 100,000 - with an election just weeks away. But a last-minute pre-vote drive to step up disarmament is under way. "It is very hard for some mujahedin; they have known nothing but war," Mr Rooz said.

Ghulam Isaczai, who works in the programme to help warlords manage the change, said some of the younger and brighter commanders were realising that business, not private armies, were the future. "A lot of them are very rich, and after 20 years of fighting they want out."

Mr Isaczai said the failure to meet disarmament targets was not as dangerous as it looked. "We never thought we would get 100 per cent disarmament or even close," he said. "This is Afghanistan, after all."