Centenary of the Victor: The tomb raiders

A 100 years after his death, the vandalism this hero’s tomb has been subjected to needs to be taken seriously.


Durrani-era gravestone, shown as it was photographed in 2007. PHOTO: DR ALI JAN

PESHAWAR:


He is a hero, and not just any hero. History has celebrated Ghazi Mohammad Ayub Khan, and matching tributes have been paid to the man who gave a humiliating defeat to the British army in 1880. He was an Afghan general from Maiwind, who was laid to rest in Peshawar.


The Victor of Maiwind as he is called popularly rests in a tomb made of pure white marble. Islamic calligraphy, geometric patterns and floral carvings beautified his last abode for a century. The tomb is in the Durrani graveyard compound where other family members of Sardar Ayub are also buried. Graves of former members of the Afghan monarchy are also here.

Yet, some four years ago, his tomb was maliciously vandalized by professional relic hunters. His gravestone and relics were stolen from his tomb in June 2010. Four years later, the tomb is in the same condition.

The Victor’s 100th death anniversary fell on April 7 this year.

The graves have rare historic headstones dating back centuries. These are relics that the world will lose if not protected.

In the past promises were made by politicians that this heritage would be protected. Mian Iftikhar Husain has visited the tomb twice, and promised to restore the grave and take action, but so far the promise remains unmet.

Dr Abdul Samad, hired as a consultant by secretary archaeology and museums to investigate the issue, wrote his findings in May 2011. These were regarding the looting of historical graves. In that, he declared the incompetency of the directorate of archaeology as the reason behind this.

“He was the only Pashtun leader who embarrassed the British army,” said the letter shared with The Express Tribune. It further said that “the present directorate of culture is least interested in pursuing this issue of national interest; hence looting of these historical graves has become an organized crime since 2010.”

The letter added that it is unfortunate that the intentional ignorance is the main cause of this vandalism, and that these historical graves are located at a walking distance from the Directorate of Archaeology, but neither practical nor any theoretical steps have been taken to preserve this heritage site.

Dr Samad had recommended that these historical memorials should be declared protected monuments under the Antiquities Act, and legal action should be taken against the officials responsible for this serious incompetence.

Director Archaeology and Museum, Naseem Khan, while talking to The Express Tribune, expressed ignorance about the issue, and stated that he is freshly appointed and has no information regarding the theft at mausoleum of the Victor of Maiwand. He said that currently they are only looking after 60 historical sites around the province.

Official sources revealed that the then commissioner of Peshawar, Azam Khan, had issued a directive through a letter to the Police and relevant officials to look into the matter.

“The mausoleum of Afghan Monarchs is not protected under the archaeology department,” said a senior official of the department, requesting not to be mentioned. “We are in great financial crisis and cannot even pay salaries for the guards and other staff that need to be appointed for all historical sites,” said the official.

“This theft is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr Ali Jan, cultural expert and former tourism consultant who documented the Durrani graveyard. “Plunder of heritage sites is taking place around the province; it is now an international racket but the directorate of Archaeology has turned a blind eye to this,” Ali added.

He said that graves of Afghan monarchs should be protected under the Antiquities Act of 1997 and an FIR should be registered. In Ali’s opinion, thousands of sites are scattered in K-P, and what is needed is not huge funds but to register them under the Act to at least ensure their legal protection. “No archaeologists of high calibre are hired; officials are appointed not on merit but on political basis. They are incompetent and have a lack of zeal for saving the heritage. Funds have been eaten up in the millions,” said Ali.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2014.

COMMENTS (1)

Antebellum | 7 years ago | Reply

Very unfortunate. The KP gov must answer for this.

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