- 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
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
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.