- Taliban want to be
- Siddharth Varadarajan
NEW DELHI (March 4, 2001): Fanatical
they may be, but the Taliban's threat to destroy ancient Buddhist statues is the perverse
product of a political strategy aimed at highlighting what they feel is the indifference
of the international community towards the plight of Afghanistan.
Though the Taliban have been in power for
two years, it is the imposition of UN sanctions in November 2000 that has hardened their
attitude. Afghanistan's rulers say the military and financial sanctions -- sponsored by
the US and Russia over the Osama bin Laden issue -- are discriminatory because arms sales
to the opposition Northern Alliance have not been banned. They also say that the UN move
will lead to a humanitarian disaster and refugee efflux since the Afghan economy is
severely dislocated after nearly 20 years of civil war.
On the last point, at least, the Taliban's
fears have been echoed by UN relief officials and even UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Gen Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan's
Inter-Services Intelligence and a man closely associated with Islamabad's Afghan policies,
told The Times of India it was hypocritical for the world to protest the statues'
destruction when it has ``silently stood by as 10 million Afghan lives have been placed at
risk''. Gul said the Taliban's move is linked to the UN sanctions. ``This is their way of
forcing the world to pay attention, to take them seriously''.
Though Gul said Kabul should allow the
statues to be sent out of the country rather than destroying them, he claimed there was
nothing un-Islamic about what the Taliban were doing. Using logic similar to the BJP -
which said that the Babri Masjid was not really a mosque as prayers had not been offered
there for years - Gul argued that since the Bamiyan statues are not being worshipped, they
would not attract the Quranic injunction against the desecration of places of worship.
``It's their country. Nobody can do anything''.
An Islamabad-based Pakistani businessman
who is very close to the Taliban leadership told TOI that the timing of the latest
announcement is also linked to the capture two weeks back of Bamiyan from the opposition
Hizb-e-Wahdat. ``For two years, Bamiyan has changed hands several times,'' he said, ``but
only now do the Taliban have complete control''.
He said it was possible the Taliban do not intend fully to
carry out their threat. ``If they wanted to do it, the statues would already be rubble.
Maybe the announcement was made to tell the world that the Taliban cannot be simply wished
away''. He added that no one, not even Pakistan, could compel them to abandon their plan.