Looting Afghanistan’s Artifacts

Since the beginning of the long war in Afghanistan, looting of artifacts began. A large sum was smuggled out of the country during the civil war, and this process increased during the first reign of the Taliban, with the antiquities often being sold in black markets in Pakistan. Even though the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan made some attempts to stop the illegal excavation and smuggling of antique works, but due to the widespread corruption, the process never completely stopped. Now, the rate of excavation and smuggling has risen dramatically; the Taliban and their criminal associates have found new markets, such as Iran, to smuggle in addition to the previous markets of Pakistan.

Artifacts of a country are an important part of its history, providing insight into ancient culture, art, law, and ways of living. They also unveil how complex societies were managed in the past. These ancient remnants are solid evidence of the past, connecting the present to the past. Without this kind of evidence, regimes often create their own fictitious history, claiming superiority of certain ethnic groups, in order to consolidate their power. These fake histories do not require evidence like ancient artifacts; instead they use advertisements to replace facts.

Real history is understood through the study of artifacts and remnants from the past, which are analyzed using scientific methods. Not only inscriptions on stones or metals, but the objects themselves can provide insight into the beliefs and lifestyles of ancient people. Therefore, the discovery of ancient artifacts helps to narrate accurate history and prevents it from being distorted. It is not surprising that developed countries recognize the importance of artifacts and have established large museums to collect as many of them as possible.

Over the past fifty years, Afghanistan has lost a large portion of its artifacts, most of which have been looted and sold on the black market. The Taliban have started a new wave of looting with the help of complex smuggling networks, as they have no appreciation for the value of these antiquities. In contrast, radical regimes seek to survive by disconnecting people from their past, while indoctrinating and propagating their own values and writing their own fictitious history. The destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan and the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria were attempts to disconnect people from their past. ISIS and the Taliban have both destroyed a part of the documented history of humanity. It is up to the Afghan people to search for and strive to protect their true history from further distortion.