x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Afghanistan's glory

The once-buried city of Mes Aynak should be a source of inspiration for us all.

It's difficult to think of Afghanistan as anything other than an impoverished, dysfunctional and lawless place. But at times in its history, it has been wealthy and influential. The long-buried Buddhist city of Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of Logar, bears witness to that.

Since the 1960s, archaeologists working between Afghanistan's political-military upheavals and subsequent rounds of pillaging, have uncovered spectacular buildings and artworks showing that the 6-kilometre-square city was once an important stop on the Silk Route carrying trade goods from China to Europe.

But now, The Guardian reported on the weekend, time is running out for Mes Aynak. A Chinese company is poised to exercise its mining lease, with the aim of extracting more of the copper that attracted Buddhist settlers almost 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists are working to record the site and relocate what treasures they can. Mes Aynak may disappear again, but it is important that it not be forgotten.

Afghans can take solace, and inspiration, in the cultural achievements of their forebears. For the rest of us, Mes Aynak is a reminder that national fortunes can ebb and flow, and that negative perceptions ought not be set in concrete.