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Why the Taliban are doing it
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.


Updated: 3-3-2001

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