The Hadda figurines are the museum’s most visible sign these days of the years-long recovery from the turmoil in Afghanistan that began even before the Taliban, when warlords fought over Kabul in the wake of a Soviet retreat.Much of the museum’s holdings, thousands of pieces, were looted and the building was shelled, though some treasures were hidden in the presidential palace in Kabul and elsewhere. The roof of the room where the Hadda figurines are now being pieced together was destroyed.The museum’s recovery began in earnest in 2004, during the period when the defeated Taliban quietly began to regroup. A few hundred objects have been restored in recent years. Now the museum and the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute are compiling as complete an inventory as possible in the hope of tracking down missing artifacts – and saving a digital record of the collection in case of further threat.That database is more than 99% complete, with more than 135,000 surviving pieces, the Oriental Institute says. For the missing artifacts it hopes to create digital “wanted” posters with their images to post online, “so that these objects can be spotted, and ideally recovered and repatriated.”Experts and advocates of Afghanistan’s rich history have expressed dismay that cultural preservation apparently has not been on the agenda in the U.S.-Taliban negotiations, which have been focused on a U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban guarantees that the country will not be used as a launching pad for global terror attacks.”If it has been discussed, we are unaware of it, and this is something we have been following closely,” said Adam Tiffen, treasurer with the Virginia-based Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage. The U.S. envoy leading the talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, is the organization’s director emeritus.”If we do not learn from our past we are a fool, I would say,” said museum director Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, who is very concerned about the potential Taliban return and is making plans to protect the museum’s holdings. “I hope they have learned that this is not against the (law) of Islam, nobody is worshipping these objects, everybody is considering these objects as showing our history.”

He urged the Taliban to go to museums in Doha, Qatar, where the group has a political office, and see the artifacts that are preserved there.”We have achieved a lot in 18 years” since the Taliban were defeated, Rahimi said. “If they are here in power and there is no change in their mentality, it means we are definitely back where we started and whatever we achieved will be gone.”Not all the Hadda artifacts were destroyed. A short walk down the hushed corridor from the workshop that reflects so much Taliban carnage, a complete figure of a seated Buddha is on display, dating from the third or fourth century.”His face suggests gentle meditation,” the placard says.

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