The cultural centre in Bamiyan was meant to be finished last month, reflecting the amazing legacy of a site that was desecrated by the Taliban in Afghanistan two decades ago by dynamiting ancient Buddha sculptures.
On the other hand, the red carpet celebrations will have to wait. After the Taliban marched triumphantly into Kabul’s capital, everything was put on pause.
“Everything is on hold,” said Philippe Delanghe of UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural organisation, adding that they are awaiting the decisions of the new leadership.
Many consider the willful destruction of cultural property to be one of world’s worst cultural crimes
On the historic Silk Road commercial route, Afghanistan was once a crossroads of ancient civilisations. There are fears that now that it is in the hands of the hardline Islamist Taliban, its heritage may be jeopardised.
In March 2001, the Taliban spent weeks using dynamite and artillery to blow up two gigantic 1,500-year-old Buddha sculptures carved into a rock in Bamiyan, about 175 kilometres (78 miles) west of Kabul.
It was an act that called the world’s attention to Islamists’ murderous doctrine just months before Al-Qaeda, which was protected by the Taliban in Afghanistan, carried out the terrible 9/11 assaults on America.
“”We judge by history, and there were awful results 20 years ago,” UNESCO’s associate director general for culture, Ernesto Ottone, told AFP.
Crossroads in civilization
In February, the Taliban claimed that antiques are a part of Afghanistan’s “history, identity, and rich culture,” and that “all have an obligation to forcefully defend, monitor, and maintain these treasures.”
Two of Afghanistan’s main attractions are the Buddhist sanctuaries at Mes Aynak and the 12th-century Minaret of Jam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since regaining authority, the Taliban, on the other hand, have said nothing.
There are a number of alarming signs. Residents in Bamiyan accused the Taliban of blowing up a statue commemorating a Hazara leader killed by Islamists in the 1990s in mid-August.
AFP was unable to verify the reports, but photographs on social media appeared to show a beheaded statue. The director of the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA), Philippe Marquis, told AFP that he is still concerned about what may happen.
“We haven’t made any announcements that say, ‘We’re going to demolish or erase everything from the non-Islamic past,'” he said. Destruction of cultural heritage sites has been classified as a war crime since 2016.
The National Museum in Kabul, which was ransacked both during the civil war that followed the Soviet military exit in 1992-1996 and during the Taliban’s first rule, which lasted from 1996 to 2001, is a source of anxiety for many people.
Some predicted widespread looting, similar to what happened in Iraq and Syria when extremist forces raised funds by selling historic artefacts on the black market.
The Taliban took over Kabul without firing a single shot, and the museum looks to have escaped intact so that we will soon be able to breathe a little easier.”
Many Afghans who want to protect cultural assets have fled to other countries or are hiding and terrified to speak out. Those who do have warned that the Taliban’s guarantees of safety are little more than rhetoric designed to win Western backing.