By Mirwais Harooni
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani dedicated an ambitious reconstruction project on Monday to restore the ruins of historic Darul Aman palace, an initiative aimed at signaling a new future for the war-torn country.
Much of Kabul has been repaired since devastating civil wars, but the palace has gathered dust atop a hill on the outskirts of the capital, a scarred memorial to the country's shattered past.
"Today, we witness returning to the past while building a foundation for the future," Ghani said, standing inside the bombed-out shell of the structure.
Built in a more peaceful time in the early 1920s, the Aman palace has been a symbol of failed attempts to bring peace to Afghanistan.
It was repeatedly burned, including during the Soviet occupation in 1979, before being heavily damaged by fighting and abandoned during the civil war in the 1990s.
Until recently, curious visitors who made friends with the guards could pick their way around the collapsed roofs and crumbling, bullet-marked walls.
Now Darul Aman and the neighboring Tajbeg Palace, also ruined, sit within view of a new, nearly $100 million Afghan National Assembly building, which was inaugurated in December.
Fundraising for the Darul Aman palace reconstruction began with a government campaign in 2012. The project is expected to cost $16.5 million to $20 million and take three to five years, said Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, a media adviser for the ministry of Urban Development and Housing.
Once complete, the building will be used as a museum and a venue for national ceremonies, Ghani said.
(Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill)