Taliban blow apart 2,000 years of Buddhist history Skip to main content

Taliban blow apart 2,000 years of Buddhist history

Deep in the heart of Afghanistan's once serene Bamiyan valley, the sound of gunfire and mortar explosions could be heard yesterday.

Bearded men dressed in baggy salwar kameezes loaded and reloaded their rocket launchers under a clear azure sky. The Taliban fighters were busy - busy destroying two giant Buddhas carved into the hillside nearly 2,000 years ago, busy erasing all traces of a rich pre-Islamic past.

Though no one knows for certain, it seems likely that the massive Buddhas, previously Afghanistan's most famous tourist attraction, have been pulverised. Taliban and opposition sources yesterday confirmed that troops spent all day demolishing them.

"They have started attacking the Buddhas with guns and tank shells, with whatever arms they are carrying," a militia source said last night. "People are firing at them out of their own sentiments."

Western diplomats had hoped that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's spiritual leader, might reconsider the edict he issued on Monday ordering the destruction of all of Afghanistan's statues, which he considers idolatrous.

A tidal wave of international condemnation from the US, Germany, Russia, India, the European Union and even Pakistan, the Taliban's closest ally, made no difference. It appears that local commanders have already launched a ferocious attack, before the statues could be formally blown up.

"We have also heard reports that they are attacking them with rockets and tank shells," opposition spokesman Mohammad Bahram said last night, speaking from the western mountains of Bamiyan, which are controlled by anti-Taliban groups.

The isolated valley, deep in the Hindu Kush mountains, was the scene of heavy fighting last month, when it fell briefly to opposition forces. The Taliban retook it in massive numbers. Much of the hardware they used in that offensive litters the mountainside and is now being deployed against a sandstone enemy unable to fight back.

The valley, visited by Buddhist pilgrims for hundreds of years, was closed to foreigners last month and local Afghans have also been kept out.

In all of Afghanistan's cities, Mullah Omar's edict was being implemented yesterday, some sources suggested. Two days ago the information minister, Qudratullah Jamal, confirmed that the historic statues in Kabul's bombed out museum and in the provinces of Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar were also being destroyed.

Western cultural experts fear that as many as 6,000 Buddhist antiquities - some lying in the basement of the Taliban's information ministry - may already have been destroyed.

Unesco's director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, said: "Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation and powerlessness as I see the reports of the irreversible damage that is being done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage."

The destruction, which has only added to the war-shattered pariah state's misery, is being seen by most observers as a defiant response to the fresh wave of UN sanctions imposed on Afghanistan last month.

The country is already in the grip of the worst drought in 30 years, with 12m people affected, 3m of whom are on the brink of starvation. Some half a million Afghans have fled their homes this year, many in a massive exodus to neighbouring Pakistan.

In the capital, Kabul, yesterday, a woman, two-month old baby and four-year-old boy were trampled in a stampede for charity food coupons.

Ref: Guardian


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