Afghan musicians look to recreate famed school in Portugal

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Afghan museum reopens with Taliban security – and visitors

LISBON, Portugal, Dec 14, (AP): Students and faculty members from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music arrived with their families Monday in Portugal, where they are being granted asylum and where they hope to rebuild their acclaimed school. The 273-person group, including some 150 students, fl ew into Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, from Doha, Qatar. Their departure from Afghanistan was staggered in five airlifts to Doha over six weeks in October and November. “The arrival of the (institute’s) community today means that the first and most important step of saving lives and insuring freedom is now over,” said the institute’s founder and director, Dr. Ahmad Sarmast.

Governments and corporate and private donors met the group’s evacuation and resettlement expenses. “From now on, (the institute’s) musicians will be a symbol of courage and resolve, not only for Afghan artists, but also for the people of Afghanistan, in their struggle against the oppression and tyranny of the Taliban,” Sarmast said. The musicians are among tens of thousands of Afghans, including many from the country’s sports and arts community, who have fl ed since Taliban fighters seized Afghanistan in August, when the US and NATO ended their 20-year military presence. The Afghanistan girls’ youth soccer team has also resettled in Portugal, a country of 10.3 million that has taken in 764 Afghans since the summer.

Afghanistan has a strong musical tradition, and a pop music scene had flourished there over the past two decades. But many musicians fear for their futures under the Taliban, which rules according to a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. The Afghanistan National Institute of Music, founded in 2010, was renowned for its inclusiveness. It became a symbol of a new Afghanistan, with boys and girls studying together and performing to full houses in the United States and Europe. The school’s campus in Kabul is now occupied by a Taliban faction. Its bank accounts were frozen and its offices ransacked, according to former school officials. The plan is to recreate the school in Portugal, allowing the students to continue their educations, as part of a wider Lisbon-based center for Afghan culture that will welcome exiles.

The National museum of Afghanistan is open once again and the Taliban, whose members once smashed their way through the facility destroying irreplaceable pieces of the country’s national heritage, now appear to be among its most enthusiastic visitors. The museum in southwest Kabul, which hosts artifacts from the Paleolithic period to the 20th century, reopened recently for the first time since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in mid-August amid the chaotic withdrawal of US and NATO troops. Its director, Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, and his staff have so far been allowed to continue in their positions although they, like many of Afghanistan’s civil servants, haven’t received salaries since August.

Only the security guards have changed, Rahimi said, with Taliban now replacing the police contingent who used to guard the building and providing women security guards to check female visitors. Currently about 50-100 people visit the museum each day. Power cuts are frequent and the museum’s generator has broken down, leaving many of the exhibition rooms plunged into darkness. Earlier this month several Taliban, some with assault rifl es dangling from their shoulder, were among visitors using the lights of their cellphones to peer into display cases of ancient ceramics and 18th-century weapons. “This is from our ancient history, so we came to see it,” said Taliban fighter Mansoor Zulfiqar, a 29-year-old originally from Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan who has now been appointed as a security guard at the Interior Ministry. “I’m very happy,” he said of his first visit to the museum, marveling at his country’s national heritage. Zulfiqar said he had spent 12 years in Kabul’s notorious Pul-e- Charkhi prison, Afghanistan’s largest. While there, he said, someone had told him about the museum and he dreamt of the day when the Taliban would rule Afghanistan again and he would be able to visit the museum.

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