He suggests the breathtaking eastern mountains near Tora Bora. Or perhaps a hike to admire the plant life. Villages on the western plains are nice, too, brimming with cultures and handicrafts for a memorable vacation experience.

Abdul Rehman, a new member of an infant government, oversees the Ministry of Civil Aviation. A more apt title might be Minister of Wishful Thinking.

For this man, a doctor by training, is also responsible for accomplishing the unimaginable: bringing Afghanistan's tourism industry back to life.

"I am an optimist," Rehman acknowledged Tuesday. And then: "What are you interested in? You tell me, and we have it,"

While launching a tourism industry for a country that the Western world views as the font of 21st century peril may seem an absurd notion, Afghans are full of reasons why it makes good sense.

Some say it's an expression of hope after five years of insularity encouraged by the now-deposed Taliban -- a belief that a fresh government and a new era might bring a bit of modern society back to their long-neglected land.

The presence of foreigners who aren't invading also offers a dual opportunity &151; an injection of good economic karma, always tourism's chief perk, and a chance to show a largely oblivious world the destruction wrought since the Soviets invaded in 1979.

"Afghanistan was a very hot tourism spot. It was famous. Now it's famous all over again," says Shah Mohammed, a book dealer at Kabul's Inter-Continental Hotel, smiling wryly.

He still sells a 1977 tourism booklet packed with maps, ads (a "Turkman yurt hotel" in Mazar-e-Sharif) and colorful photos of mosques, mountains and an orderly Kabul that belongs only to yesterday.

"Afghanistan is a new travel destination," it enthuses. It also depicts Buddha statues, many of which were destroyed by the Taliban, who believed the figures insulted Islam.

Today, beyond safety, the question is where tourists might go — and how.

Even if air service to Afghanistan is restored, many Western travelers accustomed to package tours in air-conditioned comfort would blench at the destruction and deterioration evident in even Kabul's best neighborhoods.

Pothole-rutted roads wreak havoc on the tailbone, and an entire swath of western Kabul is a moonscape of bombed-out buildings, legacies of factional fighting in 1992-96.

Amid this devastation is a one-time prime attraction, the Kabul Museum, which might have been the cornerstone of a cultural tourism push.

Today, emptied of objects, it sits in the sun, its windows long gone and roof damaged by rocket fire years ago. Tacked near the entrance is a poster identifying different varieties of land mines that passers-by should avoid.

Foreign visitors are welcome. Doors open each morning at 8.

"They could see the destruction, and maybe they could help. That would be a good use of tourism," said Jauma Khan, one of two guards patrolling the museum Tuesday.

Not far away, at the ramshackle Kabul Zoo, Marjan the one-eyed lion held court over a menagerie of 20 animal breeds. This, too, could be an attraction again — with a cash infusion of, say, $2 million. Still, zookeeper Sheragha Omar, another optimist, says foreigners should return.

"It's completely safe," he said, adding: "If they stay in Kabul, there will be no problem."

Tourism in other regions is a distant dream. Even when U.S. bombardment stops, many places are full of gun-toters with nothing to lose. And as other countries have discovered, one tourist murder can sink an industry for years.

Rahman freely admits all this, yet he is undaunted. His plan is short on specifics but long on ambition, understandable for a man in office for two weeks and also responsible for resurrecting the aviation industry.

He talks of placing ads in international magazines, of developing partnerships with other nations. Next week, his ministry is starting a course on tourism for new employees, who he hopes will be young, savvy and English-speaking.

If only it were that easy.