The ambassador from Afghanistan yesterday praised the heroic deeds of professionals not normally associated with heroism: archeologists and museum curators.
The few brave men who saved Afghanistan"s ancient heritage from Soviet invaders, power-mad warlords and Taliban fanatics were not action heroes like Indiana Jones. They showed a quiet courage. They kept a secret.
"I would like to recognize these extraordinary Afghan patriots who helped save our heritage," Ambassador Said T. Jawad told guests at the preview of a dazzling display of golden, ivory and bejeweled items at the National Gallery of Art.
The exhibition at the East Building, which opens to the public on Sunday, includes pieces dating to 2200 B.C. Until two years ago, they were hidden in a vault beneath the Presidential Palace in Kabul and only a small circle of museum officials knew of their existence. Many leading foreign archeologists feared that the antiquities were lost forever to the black market.
"Originally, this exhibition was called the 'Lost Treasures of Afghanistan," " Mr. Jawad said.
"We changed it to 'Hidden Treasures" because, to us, they were never truly lost. To the Soviets, they were lost. To the Taliban, they were lost. To those who would steal or destroy them, they were lost.
"However, to the Afghan custodians — the men who risked their lives to hide these artifacts — they were never lost."
While thousands of Afghan relics were stolen between the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the overthrow of the Taliban by U.S. forces in 2001, the most valuable items, which Mr. Jawad called the "crown jewels" of Afghanistan"s heritage, were saved.
They represent the rich history of a nation at the center of the ancient Silk Road from Asia to the Middle East.
"Our hidden treasures are a fusion of Roman, Greek, Persian, Chinese, Indian and Balkan art influence with unique Afghan characteristics," Mr. Jawad said.
Abdul Karim Khuram, Afghanistan"s minister of information and culture, thanked the United States for dispatching the Taliban, which sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
"Today, the world community, particularly the United States of America, is helping us to extinguish the fire of terrorism and rebuild the infrastructure of our country," Mr. Khuram said.
He compared the Afghan struggle to the American Revolution, saying his country had taken up arms against foreign invaders from Alexander the Great to the Soviets.
"Like the freedom supporters of the United States who took part in the fight against dictatorship and the ideologies of tyranny, Afghans have also bravely fought against the invading and oppressive armies in the region and have maintained their freedom at the price of their blood and also strengthened the pillars of freedom of the world," Mr. Khuram said.
Bargain for Japan
The United States is showing impatience with Japan"s bargain-basement defense policy, as the U.S. ambassador in Tokyo yesterday pressed for more military spending from a nation that spends about 1 percent of its annual output on defense.
"I think the Japanese are getting a bargain in the alliance [with the United States]," Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer told reporters.
"Our capabilities have increased dramatically because we are spending more on defense than we were 10 years ago. That helps Japan. I don"t think it is unfair of us to suggest that Japan needs to look at that and make an assessment."
Japan expects to spend $46 billion through March on defense, which is actually a decrease of 0.8 percent from its current fiscal budget.
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