Pak's archaeological assets under severe threat from ever expanding militancy

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London, Dec.27 (ANI): The ever-expanding terror threat in Pakistan has not only affected country's civilian regime and its economy, but it has also ruined ancient Buddhist monasteries and other such historical relics in the war ravaged North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Places such as Mingora, Peshawar and the Swat Valley were dotted with magnificent remains of the Gandhara kingdom, which flourished from the 6th century B.C. to the 11th century A.D, but the military operation which was initiated to flush out the extremists from the region has left a trail of destruction of these historical relics.

Just as the Afghan Taliban destroyed the gigantic 1,500-year-old statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001, militants in Pakistan have continuously targeted the various Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan, driving away foreign research teams and tourists.

Fear of terror attack on these archaeological sites have forced the authorities to close down the museums and other historical Buddhist monasteries in the region, which has put their existence in jeopardy, as lack of maintenance could prove disastrous for these age-old structures.

"Militants are the enemies of culture," The Time quoted Abdul Nasir Khan, curator of the museum at Taxila, one of the country's premier archaeological sites and a former capital of the Gandhara civilization, as saying.

"It is very clear that if the situation carries on like this, it will destroy our cultural heritage," added Khan.

He said arrangements were made after warnings of a possible terror attack on the Taxila museum, but they were insufficient.

With the situation getting worse despite the government's claims of clearing the region of extremists, archaeologists fear that these sites would once again vanish as they did hundreds of years ago because of the pressure of war and conquest.

"There's no preservation, no one to look after the site. The local people are damaging the site because of illegal diggings," said Dr.Nasim Khan, professor of archaeology at the University of Peshawar.

Former in-charge of the Department of Asia at the British Museum, Robert Knox also expressed fears of extinction of these sites.

"We were in Bannu for a very, very long time. We scratched the surface. There's still an enormous amount to do and sites are lost more or less daily. It's almost a free-for-all, particularly in difficult war-like areas," said Knox, who had spent over 30 years (1970-2001) in Pakistan excavating ruins of Gandhara kingdom. (ANI)

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