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Visitors return to Afghan national museum with Taliban blessing

Afghanistan's national museum is once again welcoming visitors and exhibiting pre-Islamic artefacts with the Taliban's blessing -- a stark contrast to when the militants ransacked and shuttered the facility during their last stint in power.

A trickle of citizens made their way around the sprawling exhibit rooms in Kabul, marvelling at treasures ranging from painted Stone Age pottery to ancient coins and religious items.

The museum reopened in late November with permission from the Taliban's new ministry of information and culture, around three months after the Taliban retook power and ended their two-decade insurgency.

Some artefacts on open display are fundamentally at odds with the Taliban's ideology, including pottery collections featuring images of animals and humans. 

During their first 1996-2001 rule, Taliban fighters destroyed items including statues at the museum, while tens of thousands of items were looted and never recovered.

In that period, Taliban also blew up 1,500-year-old giant statues of the Buddha in the central Bamiyan valley. But Taliban fighters now guard the museum and its treasures from potential attack by Daesh terrorists.

According to chief curator Ainuddin Sadaqat, there has been no attempt to restrict what is on display. Only "15 to 20 percent of exhibits are of Islamic heritage", the 35-year-old told AFP.

"We also have visitors from the Taliban," who sometimes come to tour the museum in large numbers, Sadaqat said.

The reopening comes as the Taliban try to present a more moderate image while seeking to unlock billions of dollars in international aid suspended since the fall of the western-backed government and for sanctions to be lifted.

(Source: AFP) 

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