Britain to return Buddhist artifacts to Afghanistan after 17 years | News | DW | 11.11.2019
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Britain to return Buddhist artifacts to Afghanistan after 17 years

Much of Afghanistan's Buddhist heritage was destroyed under the rule of the Islamist Taliban from 1996-2001. But some pieces that were smuggled abroad for safety are now about to come home.

Several Buddhist sculptures that were smuggled out of Afghanistan to Britain almost two decades ago to prevent their destruction under the Taliban regime are to be returned to their country of origin, British police said on Monday.

The nine heads and a figure, mostly representing bodhisattvas — the name given in the Buddhist religion to people on the way to achieving enlightenment — were confiscated at London's Heathrow Airport in 2002, according to police. They could not be returned to Afghanistan at the time because of the ongoing conflict there, they said.

The works date back to the 4th-6th century CE, when Afghanistan was a majority-Buddhist country.

Islamist iconoclasm

They are thought to have been smuggled out via Pakistan after the Islamist Taliban government in Afghanistan banned all representations of the human form in 2001. The decree led, among other things, to the destruction of the famous Bamiyan statues of the Buddha and the decapitation of ancient sculptures in the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul (pictured above).

The sculptures, which according to the British Museum are made of grey schist or plaster-covered clay, are to be returned to the Kabul museum in late December after being on display in London.

The museum says it has helped return 2,345 objects, most of which were illegally trafficked, to Afghanistan, Iraq and Uzbekistan since 2009 alone.

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