Vanishing History
Protecting The Past
Majestic Ruins
Occupying History
The rich cultural heritage of Pakistan's northwestern region has come under threat from Islamic militants, and just plain indifference. This region was home to the Ghandara civilization, which flourished 2,000 years ago, and is scattered with stunning ruins. Many have UNESCO world heritage status -- and have the potential to be major tourist attractions -- but are crumbling before our eyes.
'Symbols Of Infidels'
When schoolteacher Usman Ulasyar took steps to protect an ancient Buddhist site in Pakistan's northwestern Swat Valley in 2008, he was lucky to escape the brutal justice of the Tehrik-e Taliban (Pakistani Taliban). The extremist group, in control of much of the region at the time, considered the site to be filled with "symbols of infidels." The militants have since been routed from the area, but Ulasyar's struggle to safeguard local history from thieves and developers continues.
War On Culture
Six years after the overthrow of the Afghan Taliban in Kabul in 2001, the Pakistani Taliban attempted to equal its militant brethren's infamous bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas by trying to destroy an enormous meditating Buddha sculpture in Swat Valley. The six-meter Buddha, one of the largest such objects in the world, was chiseled into a cliff in Jehanabad in the 6th century. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, which used artillery shells and high explosives to reduce the Bamiyan statues to rubble, the Pakistani Taliban managed only to deface Jehanabad's Buddha.

Majestic Ruins
Roughly 65 kilometers north of Peshawar lies the remains of the huge monastic complex known as Takht Bhai. It was once at the heart of the ancient civilization of Gandhara, which reached to Swat to the north, Kabul to the west, and Taxila in the east. Today the site is simply called Khandrath, or ruins. Few locals appear to be aware of the site's fascinating history, so we turned to Dr. Abdul Samad, director of Archaeology and Museums in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, to take us back to an era he says was marked by religious harmony.
Takht Bhai At Its Peak
This digital animation, based on photographs and expert renderings of Gandharan stupas, shows how Takht Bhai looked 2,000 years ago.
Occupying History
Less than 10 kilometers from Takht Bhai lies the village of Seri Behlol, where locals have made their homes on historical sites. While legends of the city's ancient past have passed on from generation to generation, the only conspicuous sign of its former glory is the remnant of a wall surrounding the old town. Now the wall, too, is in jeopardy, with ancient building stones being stolen, locals moving in, and officials saying it is impossible to move them out.
Winds Of Change
Dr. Luca Maria Oliverie, an Italian archaeologist who has worked in Pakistan for more than 30 years, is optimistic about the future of the country's rich historical past. He says public awareness of Pakistan's cultural heritage is gradually spreading and people are increasingly seeing historical sites as an asset. Oliverie says Pakistan and outside institutions should work to protect Swat Valley's heritage for future generations, and suggests there could be economic benefits.

Produced by:
Daud Khattak, Ali Mahmood ,Ray Furlong, Jean Garner, Muhammad Yousfzai, Niaz Ahmad Khan, Pamir Sahill, Khalid Khan Kheshgi, MASH Productions, Jaroslav Ptáčník, Andrew Wills

Designed by Pangea Design

Special thanks to:
Mahmood Khan, Pakistan's sports, culture, and youth affairs minister; Dr. Abdul Samad, the head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Museum and Archives Directorate; Usman Ulasyar, a social activist and schoolteacher in Saidu Sharif, Swat District; and the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

©2017 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty