The Japanese government is considering contributing funds to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s plan to preserve remaining valuable cultural assets in Afghanistan.
But the biggest question remains over whether the plan, put forward earlier this month by Koichiro Matsuura, the UNESCO chief and former Japanese ambassador to France, will actually materialize. And even if it does, will it work?
Matsuura proposed that the U.N. body work out a scheme to purchase precious art and cultural artifacts being traded on the market in Afghanistan. But his proposal is still vague and lacks important details.
The plan to preserve Afghan cultural assets is expected to be on the agenda at an annual meeting of UNESCO’s executive committee, scheduled for late May in Paris.
“We want to offer due financial support for the UNESCO plan if it proves to be feasible and actually materializes,” said a senior Japanese government official closely involved in the matter.
“Japan and Europe would be expected to become main financial sponsors of the UNESCO plan,” the official said, requesting that he not be named.
The United States left the Paris-based U.N. organ in 1984, complaining that it was poorly managed.
Matsuura’s proposal followed the decision by the ruling Taliban militia to destroy two ancient and famous Buddha statues in the central province of Bamiyan last month, carried out in defiance of strong pressure from the international community.
Before the demolition of the two towering Bamiyan statues, the Taliban, which rules more than 90 percent of the war-torn country, had ordered that all statues be destroyed, claiming that they were contrary to the tenets of Islam, which the Taliban says forbids images, such as paintings and pictures.
While expressing a desire to make financial contributions to the UNESCO plan, however, the senior Japanese official acknowledged that there are many hurdles to be cleared before the UNESCO plan is actually put into practice.
“It may be morally wrong to buy back art and other objects by paying money to people who stole them. It is also quite doubtful that the Taliban will agree to let UNESCO take cultural assets out of Afghanistan,” the official said.
“Another question is how to prevent money the UNESCO pays for cultural assets from falling into the hands of the Taliban and being used to fight its enemies in the civil war,” the official said.
A senior official at the Foreign Ministry’s Middle Eastern and African affairs bureau also said he doubts that the UNESCO plan will go ahead. “I think the plan is almost impossible to realize, given the fact that Afghanistan is in anarchy,” the official said, asking for anonymity.
Whether the UNESCO plan actually goes ahead — and works — apparently hinges on the cooperation of the Taliban, which the U.N. has not yet recognized as a legitimate representative of the country.
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