Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here with Minister Shah, Secretary Ahmed, Dr. Azeem, and all our other esteemed guests.
I would like to start by thanking our Government of Pakistan partners – especially members of the Ministry of Culture – for their strong partnership in cultural preservation and conservation efforts over the years. I would also like to recognize representatives from both our governments who have joined us here today – including colleagues from foreign affairs, law enforcement, and customs – as these offices will carry out much of the work included in this agreement.
We are honored to partner with the Government of Pakistan to protect this country’s extraordinary cultural treasures. The cultural property agreement we will sign this morning establishes import restrictions on certain types of archaeological and ethnological materials originating from Pakistan and entering the United States.
More importantly, the agreement facilitates the return of these cultural objects to the people of Pakistan – allowing us to understand and connect with our shared history. In addition to protecting unique and historically significant artifacts for future generations, the bilateral agreement will also encourage cultural, educational, and scientific exchange between our countries.
Cultural preservation reflects U.S. support for the principles of tolerance and respect for diversity – principles by which the people of this region have lived for centuries.
In display cases throughout this exhibition hall, you will see examples of cultural artifacts returned to the people of Pakistan from the U.S. government. As you can see, the objects not only tell the history of this region, but also of our shared humanity.
U.S. government support for Pakistani cultural heritage extends well beyond today’s signing. In fact, for more than 20 years, the U.S. government has supported a wide range of cultural preservation and conservation projects in Pakistan, including conservation of cultural heritage sites; academic and cultural partnerships; the preservation of Pashto manuscripts of literature, poetry, and Islamic history; and efforts to digitize museum archives and collections. These projects have helped create tourism and economic opportunities for local communities. In addition, our exchange programs have connected experts from both countries to share best practices and provided training to increase the capacity of Pakistani university faculty, students, and archaeologists across Pakistan.
Since 2001, the U.S. government has provided more than $8.4 million to support 35 cultural preservation projects and activities across Pakistan – either through the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation or direct funding from the U.S. Embassy.
I have visited a number of U.S.-supported cultural heritage sites during my time in Pakistan, including Sirkap in Taxila, Frere Hall in Karachi, Gor Khatri and Mohabbat Khan Mosque in Peshawar, Rohtas Fort and Wazir Khan Mosque in Lahore, and Shah Shams Tabraiz Shrine in Multan.
I have stood in awe of the beauty of the architecture, craftsmanship, and artwork of the buildings and imagined the countless people who have passed through these entryways.
As Secretary Blinken noted during a recent visit to the Smithsonian Institution, the work we do in cultural diplomacy and conservation “illuminates our past and in so doing, brightens our future.” History and culture can help show us who we are as a nation and encourage us to recognize the common thread of all humanity.
I am confident the benefits of our bilateral cultural agreement will safeguard exquisite examples from Pakistan’s past and help ensure a brighter future for generations to come.