ACCEPT Afghanistan’s National Museum is open again, and the Taliban, whose members once smashed through the facility and destroyed irreplaceable pieces of the country’s national heritage, now appear to be among its most enthusiastic visitors.
The museum in southwestern Kabul, which hosts artifacts from the Paleolithic period to the 20th century, reopened just over a week ago for the first time since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August amid the chaotic withdrawal of American and NATO troops.
Its director, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, and his staff have so far been allowed to continue in their posts, although they, like many of Afghanistan’s officials, have not been paid since August. Only the security guards have changed, Rahimi said, with the Taliban now replacing the police force that used to guard the building and providing female security guards to control female visitors. Currently, about 50-100 people visit the museum every day.
Power outages are frequent and the museum’s generator has broken down, leaving many of the showrooms in the dark. On Friday, several Taliban, some with assault rifles dangling from their shoulders, were among visitors who used the lights on their cell phones to look into display cases featuring old pottery and 18th-century weapons.
“This is from our ancient history, so we came to see it,” said Taliban fighter Mansoor Zulfiqar, a 29-year-old native of Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan who has now been appointed security guard by the Interior Ministry. “I’m very happy,” he said of his first visit to the museum as he marveled at his country’s national heritage.
Zulfiqar said he had spent 12 years in Kabul’s infamous Pul-e-Charkhi prison, Afghanistan’s largest. While he was there, he said, someone had told him about the museum, and he dreamed of the day when the Taliban would rule Afghanistan again and he would be able to visit the museum.
But when Zulfiqar was only a boy in 2001, the Taliban ransacked the museum and smashed priceless statues, especially those considered un-Islamic. One of them, the remains of a limestone statue believed to be by a king from the 2nd century, stands at the entrance to the museum building, now restored by experts from France and the museum’s own restoration department.
That same year, the Taliban dynamized two giant 6th-century Buddha statues carved into a rock face in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan at the behest of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, a move met with international outrage.
So when the Taliban swept through Afghanistan this summer and took province after province, there were serious concerns that a similar fate awaited the country’s cultural heritage, especially since pre-Islamic times. So far, at least, this has not turned out to be the case.
Saifullah, a 40-year-old Taliban member from Wardak province and a teacher in a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, said he believed the destruction of artifacts in the museum in 2001 had been carried out by lower-ranking Taliban members without orders from top places. officials.
When Saifullah, who goes by one name, for the first time, said he would encourage his students, some of whom were now guards at the museum itself, to visit Afghanistan’s National Museum.
“Generations can learn from this and what we had in the past,” he said. “We have a rich history.”
Perhaps Afghanistan’s new rulers now agree with the inscription engraved on a plaque outside the entrance to the museum building: “A nation remains alive when its culture remains alive.”
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.