Afghanistan: Did the Taliban steal Alexander the Great’s treasure?
Where Bactrian’s treasure is, one of the five most important gold collections – about 22,000 pieces – in the world, is a mystery. Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, director of the National Museum of Afghanistan says he cannot tell anyone where it is or make any comment. Some say it is hidden abroad, someone it is already in the hands of the Taliban, someone else who has been divided and hidden in different places. The only certainty is that its value is inestimable, that it could be tempting to many traffickers, and that a government that needs money and that does not boast an unbridled love for ancient history, could be useful.
The last time the collection was seen was last year in China. But previously the treasure – dating back to the first century AD – has spent the last few years traveling around the world: it was thought to have been lost in the previous Taliban government but then in 2003 it was found in the vault of the Central Bank of Kabul. Then, president Hamid Karzai had to issue a decree to be able to break into the giant safe and unearth necklaces, belts, medallions, even a crown. The treasury exhibition brought in 4.5 million dollars up to 2020.
On August 15, when the Taliban entered Kabul, Rahimi had the worst night of his life. “For two days we feared looting, we were afraid that everything would be lost, as in the 90s, when 70 percent of its artifacts were plundered during the civil war, then popped up in auctions, museums, private collections of nations and international actors.” He says, stressing that this museum, what it represents, is not only important for Afghanistan, but for the history of the world.
Afghanistan has been at a crossroads, there are finds from the times of Alexander the Great, up to Buddhist monasteries. There are 5000 archaeological sites that should be explored: wherever you dig, you find something. “We must, however, find a way for the Taliban to agree to a compromise with pre-Islamic history since everyone remembers the destruction of Bamiyan’s Buddhas in 2001.
Abdullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Culture Commission of the Taliban government, assures today that the treasury is safe. “The museum is closed for its own safety. We don’t know when yet, but it will reopen,” Wasiq stated to foreign journalists, his face covered with his black bum and his glasses framed by a turban. “The treasure is in Kabul, protected and in a place that only the government knows.” To those who ask him to see it, he replies “It’s not your business, it’s an Afghan issue”.
The official ensures that as for any nation, culture is also important for the new Afghanistan and that no one intends to destroy anything. “A nation without culture is without identity,” he says. But then he shakes his head when he is pressed on the high school denied to girls. “They will go there when it is safe for them, everything must be done properly and respecting Islamic law.” But Islam does not prohibit women from working. “No, but there are suitable jobs, like looking after the house”.