THE LOCATION of Afghanistan's national museum in a southern Kabul suburb must have been idyllic when it opened in 1931, set against a pastoral backdrop of farmland and mountains. The museum was once one of the richest cultural repositories in the world, home to a collection of the most elegant antiquities from the Ashokan, Greek, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Muslim periods.

But that was before the Soviets arrived, followed by the Mujahadeen and, finally, the Taliban.

Today the museum is a shell of its former self. Most of its objects ...

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