Kabul in 2002
My tour around the ruins of the Kabul Museum with its director revealed some depressing sights. With first-floor galleries open to the sky, the museum contains little besides crates of pulverised objects. What little the looters left was destroyed by the Taliban fanatics. A magnificent image of a Buddhist Bodhisattva, which had survived the civil war and been put back on show in 2000, fell victim to the Taliban's hardening attitude and now stands as a shattered hulk - smashed in 2001.
'...there are some objects that have survived, hidden by brave souls who risked their liberty and even their lives to save beauty and history.'
Fortunately, however, there are some objects that have survived, hidden by brave souls who risked their liberty and even their lives to save beauty and history. I was taken to the Ministry of Information and Culture, in the centre of Kabul, where the most important museum fragments and the few complete remaining objects are stored, under apparently tight security. Using a 1974 pictorial guide to the museum I was able - among the scores of open timber crates and piles of stone, pottery and timber - to identify some of the objects that had once been the pride of the Kabul Museum. It was a shocking experience.
One crate contained the fragments of the faces of delicately curved 5th-century Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from Hadda - their benign and ecstatic smiles have somehow survived the sledgehammer's blows. Another crate contained pieces of the remarkable and sensuous 7th-century figures of clay and straw from Fondukistan. In one corner there was a pile of timber that had once been the extraordinary, pre-Islamic, ancestor effigies of Nuristan. There was talk of restoration and repair - which is a possibility if money and state-of-the art expertise and technology are made available. But none of these things will ever be the same. They could be put back on show, but their battered remnants would always, to some extent, be a monument to Taliban brutality.