November 18, 2004


This morning, The Washington Post had a story that suggests, to me at least, another sign of progress in Afghanistan:

They were priceless artifacts, and the Kabul Museum curators wrapped them carefully, some of them in pink toilet paper, others in newspaper, and put them in metal boxes. Then government people, eight to 10 of them, signed pieces of paper that were glued to the locks. No box would be opened unless all the signers were there.

That was a quarter-century ago, during the Soviet occupation. But the pact held through the warlordism of the late 1980s and 1990s, through the xenophobic rule of the Taliban and the American invasion.

Many feared the treasures were lost forever, but yesterday archaeologist Fredrik T. Hiebert announced that a just-completed inventory showed that all but a handful had been recovered from hidden caches in Kabul's presidential palace complex and other "safe places."

The printed Post has some photos of some of the artifacts, and they're indeed impressive: coins, a brooch that, as the caption suggests, shows Greek, Bactrian and Indian influence, a very Roman looking relief...

More interesting than the individual objects, more heartening to me, I think, is what their emergence means. After the Soviet invasion, after the years of civil war and anarchy followed by the despotism of the Taliban, Afghans have regained a measure of stability, a measure of normalcy, which allows them to open boxes filled with the treasures of their past and admire them and display them proudly to the world with the expectation that their treasures will be safe from crooks and looters or the heinous Taliban who proved themselves to be the worst sort of destroyers of culture. I liked this bit, about the unnamed defenders of culture, to whom we should all be grateful:

"Twenty-five years ago, there was a museum director and a minister of culture" who "realized that the museum was imperiled," Hiebert said. "They're long gone -- disappeared or passed away." When the boxes were recovered, "nobody knew exactly what was in them."

Or where they had been for two decades, or when they had arrived at their final storage places, sometimes after enduring abuses that Hiebert could only guess at.

"Every time an object came out [of a box] there was a stab of fear, followed by a leap of joy," Hiebert said in a telephone news conference to announce the discoveries. "It was amazing these artifacts were in such stable condition. The boxes were dented . . . and there was evidence that animals had nested on them."

A near run thing, no doubt, and (in my view) not nearly as important as girls returning to schools or women voting in elections, but a grand thing still, and yet another victory for the Afghan people--and for all of us.

Update: The National Geographic has pictures, and its own story as well.

Posted by Ideofact at November 18, 2004 11:32 AM

Perhaps the whole world underestimated the Afghans.

They're a persistent people, especially when desperate. (Ask the Soviet Army.)

Now we discover a stunning act of resistance to outside invasion and to Taliban rule. The resistance by the nameless few who decided to save their treasures from the ravages of their people's enemies.

This is amazing.

Posted by: steve h at November 18, 2004 04:29 PM

I share steve h's admiration for the persistence of the Afghan people.

The way in which those who defend the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan have refused to see the reality of where that country is and who try, against all reality, to paint a positive picture of where that country is at right now, is, in my view, an insult to those persistent Afghan people.

Check out today's lead story at

"Afghanistan: A Nation Abandoned to Drugs"

reporting the conditions in the country and yesterday's desperate plea for help by the UN.

Posted by: Abu Noor al-Irlandee at November 19, 2004 12:53 PM

Well, gee, I suppose there never were drugs in Afghanistan before the Taliban were toppled...

Actually, the Independent story (link here) seems to run contrary to a lot of what I've heard about Afghanistan. That more than 2 million refugees returned to their homes after the fall of the Taliban, that Kabul is suddenly a bustling city, that roads are being rebuilt and girls are going to school and opinion polls show Afghans think the country is moving in the right direction, seem not to have factored at all in the report.

For my part, I'll believe the drug threat is serious when France, Russia, China, Syria and some of the other worthies on the U.N. Security Council authorize the use of force against the poppy fields...

Posted by: Bill at November 19, 2004 01:23 PM