Last week, Germany’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs returned an ancient pre-Islamic sculpture looted during Afghanistan’s civil war to the National Museum in Kabul. The piece disappeared in 1995 and was traced to Munich last year. Afghanistan’s embassy in Berlin is continuing to investigate how the artifact arrived in Germany.
The limestone artwork, which stands 30 centimeters in height and 25 centimeters in width, is comprised of eight figures believed to depict an audience with Buddha on his throne. Dating to the 2nd century AD, the piece was carved during a period in which the kingdom of Gandhara stretched across Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The piece was stolen from the museum during a violent and tumultuous period, when warlords battled for control of Kabul after Soviet withdrawal. Seventy percent of the museum’s antiquities were taken and many pieces were sold on the black market. It is also estimated that the Taliban destroyed as many as 2,500 pre-Islamic works, including the giant Buddhist statutes at Bamiyan in 2001.
Numerous artifacts are still unaccounted for. Still, Omara Khan Massoudi, the director of the National Museum, is optimistic that more pieces will be returned in the future. An agreement with UNESCO and Interpol was instituted several years ago and has proven successful. Since 2007, over 8,000 artifacts have been recovered, including a 5th century wooden Buddha. Massoudi also hopes to see twenty ivory works currently held by the British Museum restored to Afghanistan this year. Finally, the United States and others have committed $10 million to build a new museum with sophisticated climate controls and security systems, which will better equip the Afghan people to house and protect their national treasures.