- Afghan Taliban Defy Condemnation, Blast Buddhas
- Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters March 2) - Defying international condemnation, Afghanistan (news
sites)'s ruling Taliban turned to artillery and explosives on Friday to destroy two
giant rock-hewn Buddhas they decry as un-Islamic.
Mortars and cannon were being used to destroy the Buddha statues in Bamiyan in central
Afghanistan, defying protests and diplomatic pressure, sources in Kabul said.
A day after the Taliban announced they had begun destroying all statues in the more
than 90 percent of Afghanistan they control, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service said
explosives were being assembled to blow up the two monuments.
``They are using any weapon they have got at the Buddhas,'' said a Taliban official in
Kabul who asked not to be identified. ''Explosives, such as gunpowder, have also been
placed beneath the statues for more effective action.''''
Taliban leader Mullah Mohamad Omar has ruled that all statues in Afghanistan should be
destroyed because they are un-Islamic. The Taliban compares keeping statues with idol
worship disallowed by Islam.
The two Buddhas, towering 175 feet and 120 feet high in cliff-side niches, are the
first known examples of the massive Buddha images that later spread through Asia.
The sandstone statues, carved at a caravan stop on the fabled Silk Road to China, are
the best-known products of the fusion of European and Asian art flourishing in Afghanistan
and northern Pakistan between the fourth and seventh centuries.
Friend and foe alike have reacted with horror.
Unesco Sends Envoy To Kabul
The Paris-based U.N. Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, UNESCO (news
sites), sent an envoy to Afghanistan Friday to plead directly with the Taliban
leadership to halt their destruction of the country's priceless statues.
General Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO's director-general, said he had sent Pierre Lafrance,
a former French ambassador to Pakistan, to Kabul for urgent talks.
``Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation as I see the
reports of the irreversible damage done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage,''
Through some unexplained error, the statues however were never listed as UNESCO World
Heritage sites deserving special protection.
India termed the envisaged destruction ``a regression into medieval barbarism'' and
offered to look after the artifacts for all mankind.
Muslim Iran, which has tense relations with Kabul, said the monuments were part of the
``country's cultural and national heritage and belong to the history of the region's
civilization in which all humanity has a share.''
Neighboring Muslim Pakistan, one of only three countries along with Saudi Arabia and
United Arab Emirates to recognize the Taliban government, and Buddhist Sri Lanka made
fresh moves to dissuade the radical Islamic movement from its plan.
Francesc Vendrell, an assistant U.N. secretary-general and chief U.N. envoy for
Afghanistan, said he had warned Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil of world
wrath at the destruction in a three-hour meeting in Kabul on Thursday.
New York Museum Offers To Buy Statues
Vendrell said he had suggested the statues the Taliban find so offensive -- they have
said they could become objects of worship -- be moved outside the country, and had relayed
an offer from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to buy the treasures rather than see
``I was told that this would be transmitted to the authorities in Kandahar and I very
much hope that it is not too late and that we can find a formula to preserve these
artifacts and these monuments, which are a heritage of humanity of course, but also a
heritage of the Afghans,'' he said.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (news
sites) said the director of the Met museum had called him about the offer, which he
relayed to Vendrell as well as to Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
The Association of Art Museum Directors, which represents the directors of 175 major
art museums in the United States, Canada and Mexico, said it would ``stand by any effort''
to retrieve the art.
The Taliban has been seeking international recognition as the legal government,
replacing an anti-Taliban alliance that it has driven into the northeast corner of
Afghanistan but which still holds the Afghan seat at the United Nations (news
Pakistan issues its second appeal in two days.
``The government of Pakistan joins all other nations in appealing to the Taliban
government to reconsider and rescind the reported decision regarding the statues of Lord
Buddha,'' a foreign ministry statement said.
In New York, Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Shamshad Ahmed said there were reasons the
Taliban was ``so irrational.''
``When people are ostracized, isolated, politically, economically, socially and
culturally, can you expect them not to act in a desperate manner?'' he said. Instead the
world should engage the Taliban rather than ostracizing it.
Iran's Islamic government said the Taliban rulers were giving Islam a bad name. A
foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said in Tehran the Taliban decision was
``yet another proof of the backwardness which dominates this group's thinking and of their
... effort to depict Islam as violent.''
India Contacts Un Security Council
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (news
sites) has written to 14 nations, including all five permanent U.N. Security Council
members, urging them to make the Taliban see reason, an Indian Foreign Ministry statement
Sri Lanka said it would consider buying smaller artifacts from the Taliban. ``We can
certainly look at the possibility of working with other countries to buy the smaller
statues if it's not already too late,'' Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told a news
conference in Colombo.
A Moroccan-based Islamic organization Friday urged the Taliban to stop the destruction,
saying the statues did no harm to Islam.
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, a branch of the
55-member Organization of Islamic Conference, said it had urged Kabul ``to refrain from
demolishing the statues and monuments'' in Afghanistan which ``constituted a universal