The Afghan national museum is reopening with the protection of the Taliban - and tourists

The director of the museum and his staff were allowed to continue in their positions even though they, like many public servants, had not received salaries

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Afghanistan's national museum has reopened and the Taliban, whose members had once demolished the institution to smash fragments of the country's intangible heritage, now appear to be among its most enthusiastic visitors.

The southwest museum of Kabul, which handles art from the Paleolithic period to the 20th century, reopened a week ago for the first time since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in mid-August during a series of withdrawal from US troops and NATO.

Its director, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, and his staff have so far been allowed to continue in their positions even though they, like many Afghan government officials, have not received salaries since August. Only the guards have changed, said Rahimi, as the Taliban now replaces the police guarding the building and providing female security guards to check on female visitors. Currently about 50-100 people visit the museum each day.

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Power outages are common and the museum's generator is damaged, leaving many of the exhibition rooms dark in the dark. On Friday a few Taliban, some with guns hanging from their shoulders, were among the visitors who used their cell phone headlights to view boxes of ancient pottery and 18th-century weapons.

"This is from our ancient history, so we came to see you," said Taliban fighter Mansoor Zulfiqar, a 29-year-old from the province of Khost in southeastern Afghanistan who has now been appointed as a security guard in the Interior Ministry. "I am very happy," he said of his first visit to the museum, marveling at his country's treasures.

Zulfiqar said he had spent 12 years in the infamous Kabul prison in Pul-e-Charkhi, Afghanistan's largest prison. While there, he said, someone had told him about the museum and dreamed of a day when the Taliban would again rule Afghanistan and he would be able to visit the museum.

A Taliban warrior takes a photo with his cellphone at the Afghan National Museum.

Taliban warrior taking a photo with his cellphone at the National Museum of Afghanistan.P Petros Giannakouris / AP

Silver coins and ceramic pot from the Ghaznavid period, from 977 to 1186 are shown.

Silver coins and ceramic pottery from the Ghaznavid period, from 977 to 1186 are on display.Peter Giannakouris / AP

But when Zulfiqar became a boy in 2001, the Taliban looted the museum and smashed precious images, especially those that were considered non-Muslim. One of them, the remains of a limestone statue believed to belong to the 2nd century king, stands at the entrance to the museum building, now restored by French experts and the museum's restoration department.

That same year, the Taliban converted large 6th-century Buddhist statues carved on a cliff in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan at the behest of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, a move that met with international outrage.

So as the Taliban passed through Afghanistan this summer, taking over provinces and provinces, there was great concern that the same fate awaited the cultural heritage of the country, especially anything from pre-Islamic times. So far at least, this does not seem to be the case.

Saifullah, a 40-year-old member of the Taliban in Wardak province and a teacher at Madrassa, an Islamic school, said he believed the 2001 museum vandalism was carried out by lower-level members of the Taliban without instructions from senior officials. officials.

During his first visit to the museum, Saifullah, whose name is unique, said he would encourage his students, some of whom are now security guards at the museum itself, to visit the National Museum of Afghanistan.

Conservator works Monday, December 6, 2021.

Guardian works Monday, December 6, 2021. Petros Giannakouris / AP

"Generations can learn from this, and from what we have in the past," he said. "We have a rich history."

Perhaps the new rulers of Afghanistan now agree with the inscription on a plaque outside the museum building: “A nation lives on while its culture lives.”