Sunday, 31 August 2014

Swat Museum gets ready to re-open 6 years after militant attack

In the years since the Swat Taliban militants were defeated, various aspects of tourism and culture have been returning to the once-volatile area.

SWAT – As another sign that cultural activities are returning to the area, Pakistani officials are making arrangements for the Swat Museum to re-open more than six years after militants attacked it, forcing it to be closed.
"The situation is normal, and the general public are taking interest in all activities," Faiz-ur-Rehman, the museum's curator, told Central Asia Online of life in the area today.
The museum is still closed but will re-open after a proper ceremony, he said.
"The days are gone when the Taliban virtually ruled the valley," he said, predicting the re-opening will bring back hundreds of foreign tourists. "They were enemies of culture, but now the evil forces have been defeated."

The process of re-opening the museum

Swat was part of the Gandhara Kingdom, which existed from 530 BCE to 1021 CE, and boasts a rich archaeological heritage, including unique stone Buddha statues and stupas, many of which were housed in the museum.
During the Swat Taliban's reign of terror in 2007-2009, residents witnessed numerous atrocities, including attacks on government installations, schools and health facilities.
The museum, inaugurated in 1963 by then Pakistani President Ayub Khan, was among those institutions that were attacked. Militants bombed it, damaging more than 150 items and forcing the museum's closure in 2008.
Since the military's victory over the Swat militants in 2009, though, life has gradually returned to normal and culture is returning to the area.
Officials had moved the artefacts to Taxila, Punjab Province, to preserve them after the 2008 attack; now that the museum's reconstruction – which took several years and was funded by Italy – is complete, archaeologists are bringing back the antiques.
"All of the objects belong to Swat and are placed in chronological order from the Stone Age to the British era," Rehman said.

Archaeology, tourism return

The return to peace is also giving the economy a needed boost.
"Archaeological activities, with the help of the Italian mission [that rehabilitated the museum], have restarted in the area and so far we have preserved six sites," Rehman said. "The Italian archaeologists have started repairing the face of the Jehanabad Buddha [a 7-metre-tall 7th-century CE statue that the Taliban defaced in 2007], and we are hopeful very soon it will be brought to its original position."
Other activities related to the conservation, exploration, reconstruction and training of workers are in progress, he added.
"It was a great source of income for us," 18-year-old Swat resident Akhtar Ali said of the Jehanabad Buddha.
"Before the Taliban damaged the face of the rock engraved with the Buddha's image, many tourists from Japan, Thailand, Nepal and many other countries came to the site, but the militancy ruined our business," he said.
Ali said he was optimistic tourists would return.
"We hope that the good times will come again ... and our business will start again," he said.
Already, there is an indication of that as tourists, especially from Punjab, have started visiting the area again.
"We enjoyed the summer festival in Kalam [August 4-7] and also visited the archaeological sites that show the Gandhara civilisation," Allah Ditta, a resident of Bahawalnagar, Punjab Province, said. "We will come again next year for the summer festival and hope by that time the museum will be open too."

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