Several Taliban members, some with assault rifles dangling from their shoulder, were among visitors using the lights of their cellphones to peer into display cases of ancient ceramics and 18th-century weapons.
The National Museum of Afghanistan has opened once again and the Taliban, whose members once smashed their way through the facility, now appear to be among its most enthusiastic visitors.
The museum in southwest Kabul, which hosts artifacts from the Paleolithic period to the 20th century, reopened just over a week ago for the first time since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
The museum's director, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, and his staff have so far been allowed to continue in their positions although they, like many of Afghanistan’s civil servants, haven’t received salaries since August.
Only the security guards have changed according to Rahimi, with Taliban now replacing the police contingent who used to guard the building and providing women security guards to check female visitors.
Power cuts are frequent and the museum’s generator has broken down, leaving many of the exhibition rooms plunged into darkness.
On Friday, several Taliban, some with assault rifles dangling from their shoulder, were among visitors using the lights of their cellphones to peer into display cases of ancient ceramics and 18th-century weapons.
“This is from our ancient history, so we came to see it,” said Taliban fighter Mansoor Zulfiqar, a 29-year-old originally from Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan who has now been appointed as a security guard at the Interior Ministry.
“I’m very happy,” he said of his first visit to the museum, marveling at his country’s national heritage.
A step forward?
The Taliban had ransacked the museum in 2001, smashing priceless statues, destroying irreplaceable pieces of the country's national heritage.
In the same year, the Taliban dynamited two giant 6th-century buddha statues carved into a cliff-face in Bamiyan in central Afghanistan on orders from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
So, as the Taliban swept through Afghanistan this summer, taking province after province, there were grave concerns that a similar fate awaited the country’s cultural heritage, especially anything from pre-Islamic times.
So far at least, this has not appeared to be the case.
Perhaps Afghanistan's new rulers now agree with the inscription engraved on a plaque outside the museum building's entrance: “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.”