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Taliban begins demolition, VHP vows retaliation

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An undated photo of the world's tallest Bhuddha statue at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. (AP)

KABUL/NEW DELHI: The ruling Taliban militia on Thursday began demolishing statues across Afganistan, disregarding international opinion. The move evoked a strong response in India, with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) threatening suitable "reaction" in Rajasthan's communally sensitive Ajmer.

In Kabul, Afghanistan Radio quoted Taliban information minister Qudratullah Jamal as saying the Taliban had started destroying statues in Kandahar, Bamiyan, Herat and Kabul Museum, following a fresh decree from its Chief Mullah Omar. ``We will use all means, including canons and tanks, to destroy the statues,'' he said. Jamal said the destruction of scores of pre-Islamic figures was designed to stop the worshipping of "false idols," throughout the country.

He said militiamen started wrecking the almost 2,000-year-old Buddhist masterpieces in the central province of Bamiyan, including the world's tallest standing Buddha measuring 50 metres, after sunrise. The Taliban soldiers were also at "work" in the Kabul museum and elsewhere in the provinces of Ghazni, Herat, Jalalabad and Kandahar.

The decree for the destruction of statues was issued after consultation with religious leaders and the Taliban Islamic Supreme Court, the Minister said. The orders for destruction have been issued ``because these statues have remained as a shrine of infidels and they are worshipping these statues still...God Almighty is the real shrine...all false shrines should be smashed,'' the decree said.

An edict announced Monday by the militia's supreme leader, Mulla Mohammad Omar, calling for the destruction of all statues in line with "Islamic" laws, has caused shock around the world.

The VHP on Thursday joined issues with the Taliban over the destruction of statues, including the Bamiyan buddhas and threatened a "reaction" in communally sensitive Ajmer town of Rajasthan if they do not stop "insulting" Rajput warrior Prithviraj Chauhan's memorial in Ghazni.

"The destruction of Bamiyan statues is an insult to Budhhism," VHP senior vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore told reporters here.

Alleging that the 'samadhi' of Hindu warrior Prithviraj Chauhan in Ghazni was being "insulted" by the Taliban regime, Kishore said, "people in his erstwhile capital of Ajmer are agitated over it and they may react if it does not stop."

Asked what was meant by "reaction", Bajrang Dal leader Surendra Jain said, "you never know how people react."

The dargah of famous Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer commands a massive following across the Indian sub-continent, including a large number of Hindus, and is cited as an example of communal harmony.

The two massive Bamiyan Buddhas, carved into a sandstone cliff near the provincial capital in central Afghanistan, stand 50 metres and 34.5 metres tall, respectively, and were built around the second century.

Appeals for their preservation have come from India, the US, France, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Sri Lanka, Iran and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

India on Thursday sent a former foreign secretary to a UNESCO-sponsored meeting in Paris to discuss the destruction of the Buddhist statues.

"The statues belonged to Buddhists all over the world and not to Afghanistan alone," said R P Perera, a UNESCO official based in New Delhi. "I am sure the meeting will take a grim view of the act," he said.

Koichiro Matsuura, chief of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), said their destruction would be a "real cultural disaster that will cause an irreparable harm to a heritage of exceptional universal value."

Germany, Russia, Thailand and a number of other countries expressed concern Thursday following the Taliban announcement that the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas had begun.

But Afghanistan's foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said the edict was irreversible. "Have you ever seen any decision of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) reversed?" Mutawakel asked.

Afghans, baffled at first by the decree and now its implementation, quietly and sadly condemned the destruction.

"Destroyed cities can be rehabilitated. But once the statues are gone, they can never be replaced," said a resident of Kabul.

Taliban officials privately said they were not happy with Omar's decree, which is seen as absolute law in more than 90 per cent of the country under the militia's rule. (Agencies)

Sincere thanks to Tinh Tue for providing us with this article


Updated: 1-3-2001

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