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Reporter's Notebook: Afghanistan's House of History Restored

It’s just one of many bomb-damaged villas on the outskirts of Kabul.

But it is, perhaps, the most important building in Afghanistan, as it houses the rich history of this war-torn country.

The museum in Kabul houses what’s left of the artifacts that have survived the fighting.

I was on assignment with FOX News in Kabul in 2005 and the one place I wanted to visit was its museum.

I wasn’t really sure if there was going to be anything left as I’d seen a documentary a couple of years before that showed that the museum had been pillaged by looters over several years and had been heavily bombed.

It once held an amazing collection of artifacts as befits a country that often has been a crossroads for cultures including from Egypt, Greece, Rome and India.

Many of the priceless items that once were on display at the museum have been sent around the world by smugglers and are more likely to be found in private collections in London, New York or Tokyo.

But worse was yet to come for the museum.

The Taliban announced an edict in 2001 to destroy all pre-Islamic statues and objects in Afghanistan.

The video that was seen around the world of the Taliban blowing up the enormous Buddah statues of Bamiyan six years ago was etched in my memory as Akbar, the FOX News fixer in Afghanistan, drove me there.

He insisted, despite my concerns, that the museum was open again and, perhaps more importantly, there was something left to see inside it.

As we pulled up in the car, armed guards appeared from a roadblock outside the museum.

They checked our papers carefully before allowing us inside the building.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Afghan and Italian experts have painstakingly put back together hundreds of priceless statues, carvings and other artifacts that had been damaged or even smashed to pieces by thieves and the Taliban.

Hardly anybody was in the museum and as a good journalist does, I looked around upstairs and opened a door or two.

In one room people were working hard to restore a number of stone statues.

It looked like the world’s most difficult jigsaw puzzles in that they didn’t know if all the pieces were there and if they all came from the same statue.

I learned later that many of the statues had been found in pieces in the storeroom of the museum, which had been ransacked many times but still gave up such priceless artifacts when the experts managed to work their way through the debris.

Others had been left in pieccs in the grounds of the museum.

When I walked outside I could see parts of what seemed to be Greek temples strewn around a lawn, some just protruding from the earth.

I met an Afghan woman who worked at the museum and insisted on showing me around, as is the culture of Afghanistan.

She showed me into a large room where the wooden animist sculptures from Nuristan now fill.

When the Taliban came here and smashed everything to bits, she said, the curator of the museum had refused to allow them to burn the remains of these wooden sculptures because he told them they had the power to break them but not the right to destroy forever the history of the Afghan people.

The Taliban decided to leave them in broken pieces and, thanks to the laborious work that has been done, these beautiful sculptures can be seen again.

This past weekend 1,400 artifacts protected from looters and the Taliban in far-off Switzerland have been returned to the Kabul museum.

News reports say one of the first items to be placed in the museum was a small Buddah statue from Bamiyan, where the Taliban had blown up the giant statues.

The Afghan authorities say the artifacts have been returned because they believe the country is now safe enough for them to be returned.

But with the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan I feel sure the well-armed guards at Kabul museum will have to remain there to protect the priceless artifacts for years to come.