Every country has its own historical treasures which are the main identity of a nation, thus, it becomes the sole responsibility of every country’s residents to have respect for its safety. Since it is the matter of our country’s treasures, we have to be well aware of it and must know who protect them and how they are protected from plunders and warlords. In 2003, the issue of historical richness of the country has been one of the top listed stories of that time all across Afghanistan, but unfortunately our country continued to be a grave robbers’ paradise and all our historical sites were under extreme attack by the mafias. In response to robbing the most precious gifts of our country, the government didn’t pay any attention towards it, since the rich backwardness of the country compiled to forget the rest dominated and complex issues which are affecting our identity growth.
It was meant to be a rare success story. According to the Afghan minister of culture, the small mound of soft yellow earth at Baz-e-Khail, 20 miles east of Kabul, was one of the country’s few protected archaeological sites. But now from the very manifested evidences, we can see and hear that something is going wrong which are against our moral values and a great threat towards our stability.
The looters had discovered Baz-e-Khail two years ago as the global trade in Afghan antiquities gathered pace. To make sure their mission must succeed, the local warlords promptly banned government officials from visiting the site, as his troops plundered its treasures. Then they relented, handing in 13 seventh-century Buddhas and promising to plunder no more the treasury of the country. The fresh report on plundering the treasury of the country very clearly indicates that even the government itself is not loyal and doesn’t bother very much about the treasury of the country, instead of protecting; they themselves take up their shovels.
Since the fall of Taliban, Afghanistan has become a grave robber’s paradise, enjoying the full freedom in robbing the most precious treasure of the country. The history witnesses that Taliban destroyed many world-famous Buddhist sculptures, including the giant Bamiyan Buddhas, but protected most of the country’s more than 3,000 historical sites. Currently, with the US-backed government virtually powerless outside Kabul, local warlords in partnership with the so-called criminal gangs are looting with impunity.
Indeed there was looting under the Taliban regime too, but it was nothing compared to now. This is a total disaster, a complete free-for-all. According to the UNESCO, the cultural agency, the global industry in stolen Afghan antiquities is worth £18.3bn ($32bn), more than the Opium trade. Other experts dispute the figure. But none doubts that at the current rate of plunder, the land where east and west have collided for millennia and a dozen civilizations flowered and fell will soon be stripped of its heritage.
For now, if the situation continues, in a year or two, Afghanistan will be emptied of all its history. Perhaps, this is a serious tragedy not only for us but for all humanity, particularly for the people of Afghanistan. Indeed, when you put an ancient object in an Arab millionaire’s living room, it loses its relation to history for ever, and it becomes totally meaningless for one and all.
The 13 Buddhas of Baz-e-Khail are now in the Kabul Museum, once one of the finest in Asia. It was ransacked by rival Mojahedin factions in the early 1990s. The Taliban stole more of its wonders, including the exquisite Bagram ivories, a 2,000-year old collection of Indian panels and smashed others. Now the museum has no roof, as it waits for international donors to deliver their promised aid.
Furthermore, from Kabul, some of the world’s most important archeological sites are being laid bare. At Kharwar, in remote central Afghanistan, looters have discovered an ancient city stretching for 25 miles. From a trickle of confiscated artifacts, most archaeologists say, the city dates from around the seventh century, shortly before the arrival of Islam. “There hasn’t been a discovery like this for a century; it’s the Pompeii of central Asia,” said Anna Rosa Rodriguez of the Society for the Protection of Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage, an NGO. “Can you imagine? Even the Bamiyan Buddhas don’t compare to this, and legitimate scientists cannot get there.”
However, for protecting the antiquities, several government and UN missions have been turned away from Kharwar by local warlords. An Italian archaeological team flew in three months ago, but was permitted to spend only one day at the site. When the government subsequently sent nine police officers, four of them were murdered and the rest fled. In this regards, Jim Williams of UNESCO in Kabul said, “There could be many more such sites; we don’t know because the country has never been properly excavated.”
He added that “It’s being excavated by criminals. They’re the same people, the drug barons, and the warlords, who have become the root cause of all evils in Afghanistan. But we still can’t get the international community interested.”
UNESCO’s budget for the country is £860,000, almost all of which is being spent on stabilizing the empty plinths at Bamiyan, where the giant Buddhas once stood. Afghanistan’s government is only barely able to afford Mr. Zakir’s salary of £23 a month; it has no budget for protecting its historical sites.
Meanwhile, the looters are growing bolder by the day, according to analysts in Kabul, two weeks ago a six-ton, 1,500-year-old Buddha was intercepted at Peshawar railway station in northern Pakistan. At Kharwar, local villagers say, Pakistani dealers are arriving with orders for specific antiquities.
According to Mr. Raheem, a Pakistani general caused uproar at an exhibition of Afghan archaeology at the Guimet Museum in Paris by declaring that he had much better pieces in his living room.
However, Abdul Feroozi, head of the National Institute of archaeology said, “The problem of this looting is like all the problems of Afghanistan, it’s another bead in the necklace.”
To stop it, the government must do the same things as to stop the drugs and other crime: strengthen the government, build up the police and the national army, and break the power of the warlords. Unfortunately we are still waiting for these things to happen for the betterment of our country which is chief objective of all Afghans.
The article is first published in Daily Outlook Afghanistan Group of Newspapers on June 01, 2011 and culture conflict cooperation.