MINGORA - To bolster tourism and cultural activities in the militancy-hit valley, the residents of Malakand division have urged the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to immediately reopen Swat Archaeological Museum for visitors, especially during the ongoing peak tourist season in the area.

Damaged during the militancy period of Swat (2007-09), the Swat Archaeological Museum has been reconstructed and rehabilitated with the help of Italian Archaeological Mission in Swat. Though the 'mid-term' official inauguration of Swat Museum took place on November 11, 2013, it has not yet been opened for the visitors.

In the early 1960s, the building of Swat Archaeological Museum was badly affected by the earthquake of 2005 and a huge explosion near it in February 2008. However, the department of archaeology shifted all the valuable antique materials to Taxila Museum before the Taliban’s arrival in Swat to save them from the militants.

Following 2009 military operation against Maulana Fazlullah-led militants when the situation returned to normalcy, the Italian Archaeological Mission resumed its activities and started reconstructing the museum under a project funded by the Pakistan-Italian Debt Swap Agreement (FIDSA), implemented by Archaeology-Community-Tourism / Field School Project with the technical support of the University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar.

The civil work of the building was completed in December 2012 followed by the rehabilitation process that took another year.

“Now when all the objects are back and the work is completed, the museum should be reopened for the visitors, especially when it is the peak tourist season,” said Usman Ulasyar, executive director of Suvastu Art and Culture Association. He said the museum was an identity of Swat, which had attracted foreign and domestic tourists in the past. “I think August 14, the independence day, would be a suitable day for the reopening of the museum,” he said.

At the moment there are no signs of militancy in Swat and tourists, especially from Punjab, have started visiting the area. The peace festivals held at Mingora and Kalam towns were really appreciated by the locals, which gave an impression that Swat was no more a home to militants and normalcy had returned to the area. The experts are of the opinion that the reopening of museum would further discourage militancy and promote soft image of the valley.

“We visited archaeological sites of Gandhara civilisation like Bhudda of Jahanabad in Swat Valley. We were interested in visiting Swat Museum, but it is not open for the visitors,” said Ashfaq Ali, a tourist from the Punjab.

When contacted, Faizur Rehman, curator of Swat Archaeological Museum, said everything was ready but due to the ongoing work of reconstruction of washroom block and water system, the authorities were unable to open the facility for the visitors. “Display, lighting system and all other things are ready and the museum will be reopened for the visitors after the completion of the reconstruction work of the damaged washroom block and the water storage tank,” Faizur Rehman said. However, the official was not sure if the museum would be reopened during the current tourist season or not.

Some of the locals in the area complained of the slow reconstruction work of the washroom block. “It seems the reconstruction of washroom block is taking more time than the construction of the whole building. Had the work not been slow, the museum would have been opened earlier for the visitors,” said Abdul Wali, a resident of Saidu Sharif.

Swat Museum is located on main Mingora-Saidu Sharif Road, which has a huge collection of Gandhara sculptures from the Buddhist sites in Swat. The original museum was constructed with the contribution of the ruler of Swat, the Italian Mission and Department of Archaeology between 1958 and 1963. It was formally inaugurated by the then president General Ayub Khan in 1963 when a twin museum was inaugurated in Rome (Museo Nazionale d'Arte Orientale).

Italian Archaeological Mission, established in 1955, is one of the oldest missions in South Asia and it is behind many archaeological activities in Malakand division. However, the mission abandoned its activities in September 2007 when Maulana Fazlullah-led militants emerged in the area. The mission returned and resumed its activities in Swat as the security forces cleared the valley from the militants.

After the restoration of the Swat Archaeological Museum, Italy has donated an important collection of ethnographic items that include the original jeep of (FIAT Campagnola) which was used by Professor Giuseppe Tucci in Swat in 1955.

Prof Giuseppe Tucci, the head of Italian Mission in Swat, made some important discoveries in 1956, including a carved wall at Gogdara (a place in Swat). Standing tall on the road, the wall displayed carvings of the Late Bronze Age and the classical period (1600-400 BC).