Reopened, With A Depleted Collection!
Since coming to Power in August 2021, the Taliban have decided to showcase the rich history of Afghanistan, allowing the National Museum to reopen.
The Taliban fighters, who had destroyed irreplaceable pieces of the national heritage in the past, are now guarding the National Museum building in Kabul. During their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban not only ransacked the Museum, but also destroyed priceless statues, considering them un-Islamic. Those artefacts included a limestone statue of a 2nd Century king. Later, French experts restored the statue with the help of the Museum’s Restoration Department. In 2001, the Taliban also destroyed two giant 6th Century Buddha statues carved into a cliff-face in Bamiyan after receiving an instruction in this regard from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The incident had triggered an international outrage.
Saifullah, a 40-year-old Taliban fighter from Wardak Province and a teacher in a religious school, claimed that lower-ranking Taliban members had destroyed the artefacts without receiving any such order from top-ranking officials. After visiting the National Museum for the first time, he said that he would ask his students to visit the Museum, adding: “Generations can learn from this, and what we had in the past. We have a rich history.”
Meanwhile, Museum Director Mohammad Fahim Rahimi has welcomed the Taliban Government’s decision, saying that about 50-100 people visit the National Museum every day. According to the Director, thousands of artefacts, from the Paleolithic Period to the 20th Century, still have the capacity to attract visitors.
Rahimi, in the process, went on to inform that the Museum staff, like many of Afghan civil servants, did not receive salaries in the fast four months, because of the banking crisis in the wake of the US freezing billions of dollars in Afghan assets. International Financial Institutions, too, have cut funding for various Afghan projects.
The Museum Director mentioned that the Taliban Authorities have replaced the security guards with their own fighters, and also deployed female security guards to check visiting women. He admitted that the Museum was not in a good state, as the generator broke down a couple of months back. As power cuts are frequent in Kabul and other parts of the South Asian country, the exhibition rooms often plunge into darkness. Even some Taliban visitors are using the lights of their mobile phones to see ancient ceramic items and 18th Century weapons.
Mansoor Zulfiqar, a 29-year-old Taliban fighter from Khost Province who recently visited the Museum, stressed: “This is from our ancient history, so we came to see it. I’m very happy.” The Interior Ministry has appointed Zulfiqar as a security guard at the Ministry Office. Zulfiqar, who had spent 12 years in notorious Pul-e-Charkhi Prison, said that it was his dream to visit the National Museum.
A senior Afghan Interior Ministry official has said that the Taliban-led Government in Kabul is committed to protect the culture and heritage of Afghanistan. Hence, the Government has decided to engrave an inscription on a plaque outside the entrance of the Museum Building. The inscription will read: “A Nation stays Alive when its Culture stays Alive.”
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