Visitors return to Afghan national museum

Visitors return to Afghan national museum

Visitors return to Afghan national museum

Afghanistan’s national museum is once again welcoming visitors and exhibiting pre-Islamic artifacts with the Taliban’s blessing, a stark contrast to when the hardliners ransacked and shuttered the facility during their last stint in power.

A trickle of citizens made their way around the sprawling exhibit rooms in Kabul, marveling at treasures ranging from painted Stone Age pottery to ancient coins and religious items.

The museum reopened in late November with permission from the Taliban’s new ministry of information and culture, around three months after the Islamists retook power and ended their two-decade insurgency.

Some artifacts on open display are fundamentally at odds with the Taliban’s radical ideology, including pottery collections featuring images of animals and humans.

During their first 1996-2001 rule, Taliban fighters destroyed items including statues at the museum, while tens of thousands of items were looted and never recovered.

In that period, the Islamists also blew up 1,500-year-old giant statues of the Buddha in the central Bamiyan valley. But Taliban fighters now guard the museum and its treasures from potential attack by Islamic State insurgents.

According to chief curator Ainuddin Sadaqat, there has been no attempt to restrict what is on display. Only “15 to 20 percent of exhibits are of Islamic heritage,” the 35-year-old told AFP. “We also have visitors from the Taliban,” who sometimes come to tour the museum in large numbers, Sadaqat said.

The museum also boasts a collection of 18th- and 19th-century jewelry.

Visitor numbers are well below the hundreds who used to visit daily under the previous regime, a time when numbers were swollen by coachloads of children.

“For the moment, the cultural policy of the Taliban towards artefacts does seem very positive and realistic,” said Philippe Marquis, who formerly headed the French archaeological delegation in Afghanistan.

Future policy “will probably depend on the reaction of the international community” to Taliban pleas to restore suspended aid, he added, with the risk that withholding such assistance will result in backsliding in culture and other policy areas.

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