Society for the Preservation of Afghan Cultural Heritage (SPACH)
SPACH is an organization specifically concerned with the preservation of Afghanistan's cultural heritage, and one of few such organizations currently working in Afghanistan. SPACH has focussed its attention on the sphere of Afghanistan's material heritage, advocating for the role that this particular facet of the national identity can play in nation-building. SPACH has been predominately active in the areas of supporting the Kabul Museum and preserving its collections, advocacy and awareness-raising in regard to the plight of cultural heritage in Afghanistan in general and in relation to specific sites of cultural significance, and in field surveys and emergency conservation works on endangered monuments and sites. These endeavours have taken place against the backdrop of a devastating civil war in Afghanistan and under successive regimes, some more hostile to cultural issues than others. Since the end of the civil war and the fall of the Taliban government, SPACH has continued its work in Afghanistan in a shifting socio-political context, facing some new issues related to the reconstruction process on the one hand, and on the other, some familiar and ongoing problems that are no less challenging in the current environment.
Indeed, cultural heritage in Afghanistan is perhaps as much under threat in the current climate as it was when SPACH was created in 1994, despite the fact that this was a time when the civil war raged unabated in Afghanistan. This is due to the overlap and interaction of several extremely complex and ongoing social factors that they should consider briefly by way of introduction to the work of SPACH. Firstly, lawlessness and intermittent factional hostilities continue in provinces where historical monuments and archaeological sites of world significance are situated. The threat to these sites comes from increasing looting, vandalism, neglect, and occasional military action. Secondly, the rapid pace of post-war development and reconstruction in Afghanistan has lead to authorities, the private sector, and some international NGO's endorsing and pursuing construction projects with scant regard at times for the heritage of particular sites, or for heritage values in general. Thirdly, a whole generation of Afghans endured more than twenty years of war and were in many cases deprived of an education that encompassed knowledge and respect for the cultural heritage of their homeland. Furthermore, many Afghans with expertise in the various related fields of cultural heritage have yet to return and contribute to the reconstruction process in Afghanistan, and the institutions to which they would return in any case, have few resources to employ them. These factors, coupled with abject poverty directly created by war and drought, in conjunction with mere opportunism in some cases, naturally puts great pressure on artefacts in demand on the world-wide black-market in stolen or looted antiquities. Finally, the volume of money, expertise and will required to adequately preserve cultural heritage in Afghanistan far outweighs the commitment of the international community at present.
For many the threat to Afghanistan's cultural heritage became acute in the early 1990's with the looting and destruction of the Kabul Museum, while for others it culminated in 2001 when the international community witnessed the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Notwithstanding the importance of these events, the danger to Afghanistan's cultural heritage has grown steadily over the past few years as evidenced by an increase in the looting and destruction of significant sites in virtually every province of the country.
Thus, SPACH as an organization today finds itself in similar circumstances and pursuing similar objectives as it did when it was created in Pakistan in 1994 during the civil war, amid a growing realization and concern for the desperate plight of Afghanistan's significant sites, monuments and artefacts. Nonetheless, SPACH and other organizations, expatriate and local individuals, have worked with no small measure of success to better the situation over the years. What follows is an attempt to provide some details of the work of SPACH during the period and to outline the cultural and political context in which those activities have taken place.See more