The Afghan museum restores Buddhist history, one piece broken at a time

Restoring the Buddhist artifacts of Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban 18 years ago is like working on a 1,500-year-old puzzle, say conservatives working on the latest restoration project.

The militant Islamic group in 2001 destroyed artifacts dating back to the 3rd century when many Afghans practiced Buddhism, including two imposing statues of Buddha in Bamyan Province and dozens of small monasteries excavated and preserved in the Kabul National Museum.

After the Taliban government fell that same year, the museum began to restore the remains of the country's Buddhist history. The latest project backed by the United States aims to reassemble thousands of pieces in statues over the next three years.

It is very important (work) because it is really the restoration of our heritage, our identity, our past, said Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, 100 years old.

“Buddhism was practiced here for more than 1,000 years. That is a very important part of our history, he added.

Forty years of war, from the Soviet occupation of the 1980s to the internal struggle and the war against the Taliban, have destroyed much of Afghanistan's art, artifacts and architecture.

The warlords stole other pieces and sold them abroad.

Conservative Sherazuddin Saifi, 62, worked in the museum under the Taliban in 2001.

They wanted us to tell them the amount of antiques and ignored their request, but a few days later they came and began to break the antiques, said Saifi, who still works at the museum.

These antiques are the national treasure and the history of our country and show who lived in this country, he added.

In a classroom in the museum, Afghan conservatives work alongside experts from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. US assistance is invaluable because Afghan conservatives lack experience and the chemicals and glues necessary for restoration work, Rahimi said.

Sometimes they can work from archived photos that show the statues intact. In other cases, 3-D images and imagination are required to classify and reassemble stucco fragments of Buddha's faces, hands and torsos.

A spokesman for the Taliban, who stayed until last month in peace talks with the United States, said the group has no plans to destroy antiques.

All old artifacts will be kept in place, spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Reuters. They must be preserved for the education of history and culture of the next generations.

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, said in a demonstration on Thursday that US soldiers have been in Afghanistan long enough, but talks with the Taliban about the withdrawal of US troops, aimed at taking a step towards peace , broke in September.

The possibility of reintegrating the Taliban into an agreement to share power worries Rahimi, who is looking for options to move the artifacts if they are threatened again.

We cannot allow that to happen again to our heritage, he said.