TAXILA, Pakistan -- Archaeologists warn that the Taliban are destroying Pakistan's ancient Gandhara heritage and rich Buddhist legacy as pilgrimage and foreign research dries up in the country's northwest.
"Militants are the enemies of culture," said Abdul Nasir Khan, curator of Taxila Museum, one of the premier archaeological collections in Pakistan.
"It is very clear that if the situation carries on like this, it will destroy our culture and will destroy our cultural heritage," he told AFP.
Taxila, a small town around 20 kilometres (13 miles) south of Islamabad, is one of Pakistan's foremost archaeological attractions given its history as a centre of Buddhist learning from the 5th century BC to the 2nd century.
Violence is on the rise in Pakistan as Taliban bombers and gunmen strike with increasing frequency and intensity in the cities of North West Frontier Province and around the capital Islamabad.
"Even in Taxila we don't feel safe. The local administration has warned us about a possible attack on this museum. We have taken some extra security precautions but they aren't sufficient and we lack funds," said Khan.
"For weeks we don't get even a single foreign visitor. If visitors don't come, if sites are not preserved and protected, if research stops, what do you think will be the future of archaeology?" he said.
In March 2001, Taliban militants in neighbouring Afghanistan blew up two 1,500-year-old Bamiyan Buddha statues in defiance of international appeals.
The Islamist militia has since spread into Pakistan. Their opposition to music, art, dance, girls' education and idolatry makes archaeologists fear that Pakistani Buddhist relics are in the eye of the storm.
Italian archaeologists were active in Pakistan's northwest Swat valley from 1956 until they reluctantly discontinued work in 2007 after Taliban fighters led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah rose up demanding sharia law.
"It is not planned to carry on any research activity," Luca Olivieri, co-director the Italian archaeological mission in Pakistan, told AFP by email.
After 17 years as curator in Swat, Khan took no risks. With the Taliban killing and bombing their way through the valley, the museum closed in 2008 and he evacuated the most priceless antiquities.
That September, the Taliban twice tried to blow up 7th century Buddhist relics -- damaging a rock engraved with images of Buddha that for centuries had been a pilgrimage site....