By Shaheen Buneri
PESHAWAR: Conservationists and lovers of Gandahara art have expressed their deep concern over the indifferent attitude of the federal government to provide protection to Swat Museum and delay dallying at the federal level in the shifting of archeological objects from Swat Museum to a safer place.
In wake of the deteriorating law and order situation in Swat valley of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) it is feared that Taliban may attack the museum and destroy the centuries old archeological relics of the region. One portion of the Museum has already been damaged in the suicide bomb attack on a security check post close to the museum in 2007.
In this regard a delegation from Swat compirisng Shaukat Sharar, a prominent civil society worker and architect, Usman Ulasyar, president of Swat Arts and Cultural Society and Dr. Adil Zarif, President of Sarhad Conservation Network called on the provincial minister for culture and sports Syed Aqil Shah, the previous day in his office and briefed him on the alarming situation.
The minister promised his all out support for the protection of Swat museum and shown his agreement for the shifting of archeological objects from Swat Museum to Peshawar Museum.
"This is our heritage but constitutionally it is under the control of the federal government. We are in contact with the federal archeology department and I hope that we will find a way out", Shah told the meeting.
Sources privy to NWFP ministry of culture and sports confided to this reporter that a letter had been moved to the federal secretary of archeology but the federal government was totally indifferent to the issue.
"The federal government says that we better not worry as everything is fine with the Museum. It suggests that if we are not satisfied we should establish a check post close to the Museum to protect it from militants' attacks. It shows the indifferent attitude of the federal government towards the protection of our heritage", the sources added.
Officials at the NWFP ministry of culture inform that rare archeological sites like Takht Bhai ruins, Jamal Ghari, Shahbaz Ghari, Hund Park, Butkara 1, Butkara II, Kafir Kot (DI Khan), Palosai Piran Tomb, Saeed Khan Tomb, Akra (Bannu), Zaro Dheri (Mansehra) and Saidu Sharif Stupa are located in the Frontier province but these all sites fall under the jusrisdiction of the federal government.
"Legally we have no right on these sites. We are just the gaurdians with no facilities and no financial assistance from the federal government. We are working on a proposal to demand of the federal government to hand over these sites to the provincial government and provide technical and financial assistance for conservation purposes", the officials maintained.
When asked Syed Aqil Shah, NWFP minister for culture and sports he said that his government was coordinating all concerned including the federal government to ensure protection of rare archeological sites in NWFP and shift the archeological objects from Swat Museum after getting approval from the federal government.
"My ministry is not sleeping, the only handicap is that I am not entitled to take any action as the authority lays with Islamabad. I am helpless however if the federal government fails to take a propmpt action and God forbids if the Musuem is attacked I will resign from my seat", Aqil Shah warned.
Usman Ulasyar, President of Swat Arts and Cultural Society says that this is not the first time that the government takes no interest in the preservation of the region's heritage, every time it adopted meaningful silence over the threats to Gandahara heritage in Swat.
"Let me inform you that more than 20 sites in Swat are at the risk of Taliban attacks. Due to break down of the security system now even common people are destroying these sites", Ulasyar said.
It merits a mention here that last year about 200 Taliban militants attacked 7th century AD Jehandabd rock carving in Swat and disfigured its face beyond repair. The 22 foot high rock carving was one of the rarest piece of Gandahara art after Bamyan statues that were destroyed by Taliban in 2002.
Its high time for the Pakistan government, UNESCO and International community to realize the gravity of the situation and take concrete steps to protect and preserve hundreds of archeological sites that are spread over the Gandahara region rights from Peshawar to Mardan and to the conflict-ridden Swat valley of North West Pakistan.
Mr.Shaheen Buneri, is a TV and online journalist based in North West Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com