NOT many in Pakistan appreciate history, and this attitude has resulted in the neglect of our historical heritage. As reported in this paper, the Taxila Museum’s Archaeological Conservation and Research Laboratory is in bad shape. Set up at a cost of Rs30m, the lab was shut down after the ministry of culture was devolved two years ago. Presently, both the museum and the lab are under the Punjab government’s control. Even while the lab was functioning it suffered chronic staff and expertise shortages. In a rather bizarre example of ad hoc measures, for example, apparently cleaning staff were deputed to look after the museum’s relics in the absence of technically trained staff. The central issue behind such a state of affairs is a neglect of and apathy towards history. There is a general lack of interest in — and perhaps even disdain for — the past. Perhaps that is why no one bats an eyelid when flood victims set up camp on historic burial grounds, or when world heritage sites and ancient artefacts are treated carelessly. In Taxila’s case, beyond neglect of the lab and museum, encroachments and industrial activity around the area are also threatening this essential link to Pakistan’s past.
Where the research lab is concerned, though finances are tight the Punjab government needs to make efforts to restore the facility to working condition and hire staff with the necessary expertise to care for the priceless relics. If there is a shortage of trained experts in Pakistan, people from beyond our borders could be sought and students with an interest in history be trained and equipped to look after our heritage. In the big picture, society needs to change its outlook on history so that we can appreciate our past — and, hopefully, learn from it.