The first five-star hotel opened in the Afghan capital on Tuesday, the latest in a string of construction projects that are changing the face of dusty Kabul nearly four years after the ouster of the Taliban.
Buildings and homes destroyed during the past quarter-century of war are being torn down. Already up is a glitzy shopping mall that boasts of having the country's only escalators, a shiny office block, and the new Kabul Serena Hotel.
But this city of 4 million is far from being a metropolis.
It has electricity for only a few hours a day. The vast majority of its residents are still impoverished, living in single-room, mud-brick houses and drawing water from wells that are sometimes polluted with cholera.
Militants occasionally fire rockets into downtown areas and a threat of being kidnapped forces many foreigners to live in tightly guarded compounds surrounded by concrete bomb barriers and to travel in armored convoys.
Amid much fanfare, President Hamid Karzai inaugurated the Serena in a ceremony attended by ambassadors, foreign aid workers and others.
Its 177 rooms are to cost between €211 and €1,015 a night - a fortune in a city where a government salary is about €42 a month.
With a large swimming pool, a health club, a pastry shop, two restaurants and a neat mustard-colored exterior, it sits in sharp contrast to its surroundings.
On the pavement outside, crippled old men compete with ragged street children and burqa-clad widows to beg for change from passing cars. About 300 meters away is the Murad Khani slum, where thousands shelter in flimsy shacks next to open sewers.
A short distance from the Serena, another construction project is nearing completion - a new U.S. Embassy building and an adjoining apartment block for its staffers. Painted brightly in yellow and orange, the buildings stand out from the rest of the drab, mud-colored city.
Since 2001, the mission has been operating mainly out of modified shipping containers, staffers often having to bunk together in small rooms and work in cramped offices, the AP reports.
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