Donning a hardhat, President Hamid Karzai (search) helped break ground for a Hyatt Regency hotel in the Afghan capital on Saturday, saying it was a sign of progress in the war-ravaged nation.

The new hotel is being financed by a consortium of Afghan-American and Turkish investors and is expected to take at least 18 months to complete. It will have more than 200 rooms, restaurants and other business facilities.

"The Hyatt will quickly become a focal point for international and Afghan business leaders," said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad (search), who joined Karzai in pouring the first concrete into the foundation.

The two men pushed a button that started the process by remote control.

Other hotels are also planned in the Afghan capital, which was largely ruined in factional fighting in the early 1990s, before the hardline Taliban (search) regime took control.

Karzai said the hotel offered a great opportunity to talk about new construction, rather than rebuilding.

"In the last two years we have just talked about reconstruction: reconstruction of roads, clinics, hospitals and our country," he said. "Today we are talking about building a hotel, and that is very important for us."

The cost of the construction was not known, though Khalilzad said it was being financed in part through a $40 million loan from the U.S. government.