In September, when the last NATO forces exit Afghanistan, many fear the beleaguered country could descend into another brutal civil war that ends with the collapse of the U.S.-backed government and the triumph of the Taliban. This prospect would seem a particularly grim possibility for those tasked with protecting the nation’s unusually diverse cultural heritage.
After all, the last year the Taliban were in power, in 2001, they blew up the world’s largest statues, the Bamiyan buddhas, went on an iconoclastic rampage at the National Museum in Kabul, and took part in lucrative looting of ancient sites. The unprecedented orgy of destruction, aimed particularly at pre-Islamic remains, made them international pariahs.
Recently, however, the Taliban—which calls itself the