English Section

      Buddhism Today 

Vietnamese Section


...... ... .  . .  .  .

Holocaust of human heritage
Taliban worst culprit in history

Inder Malhotra

(Chandigarh, March 8): No words can be strong enough to condemn what the unspeakable the Taliban regime of Afghanistan has done, not in a fit of blind rage but as an act of cold-blooded zealotry that Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee has rightly described as "barbaric". Not since the Nazis has anything so vile and horrific as the destruction of the unique and priceless fifth-century giant Buddhas of Bamiyan been heard of. This savagery is comparable not to the orgy of book burning by Hitler and his henchmen but, in terms of culture and human heritage, to their holocaust of six million Jews.

Sadly, the foul deed has already been done. The incomparable works of art, sculpture and architecture that were the proud pre-Islamic heritage of not just Afghanistan but entire humanity now lie shattered to smithereens. Further attempts by sections of the international community, including UNESCO, rather belated in the first place, are now pointless. Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan, in a letter to The International Herald Tribune, had aptly compared the destroyed heritage to the "Pharaonic monuments of Egypt, the Babylonian treasures of Iraq, the pre-Islamic masterpieces of Persepolis in Iran", the Greco-Roman temples and so on. To point out all this to the medieval and mad mullahs operating from Kandahar and Kabul, however, was like the proverbial playing of the been (a musical instrument) to a buffalo.

Does this mean that the world can only wring its hands and do nothing further about the monstrosity at Bamiyan? Not at all. The international community must unite to pillory Afghanistan’s barbaric rulers at every step and in every manner. They may control most of the Afghan territory. But only three countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — recognise the Taliban regime. The UN, UNESCO, other international bodies and the numerous countries that have spoken out agony against the outrage must see to it that the Taliban regime does not get international recognition at all. This is the minimum price the vandals must be made to pay for their villainy. The UN sanctions against it must be enforced rigorously and indeed intensified.

The suggestion for a complete de-recognition of the Taliban has come significantly from Mr Dimitri Loundras, the Greek Ambassador to Pakistan who also heads a UN committee to deal with the Taliban on the archaeological issues. Other Pakistan-based Ambassadors had joined him and UNESCO’s special envoy as well as a representative of the UN Secretary-General, in frantic but fruitless last minute attempts to reason with the Taliban. It is gratifying that a number of Muslim countries have condemned the Taliban. They have also joined a host of Muslim intellectuals across the world, including a large number from this country, in declaring the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas as "un-Islamic".

The rage and the sorrow of the Buddhist countries such as Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Mongolia are limitless. The Dalai Lama also has given voice to deep anguish. The Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan has cried out against "betrayal". These countries ought to be active at the UN even more than India that is, of course, the birthplace of the Buddha. As Jawaharlal Nehru once said, Buddhism might have taken root in other countries but "India has always lived under the Buddha’s umbrella".

Some have already started arguing that, however, deplorable the action of the Taliban, such vandalism, based on religion or ideology, has been a part of life almost throughout history. They can cite any number of instances beginning from the destruction by the all-conquering Romans of the Second Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem in 70 AD when they crushed a Jewish revolt in their empire. The argument is specious and must be rejected. What happened in medieval times cannot justify its repetition in the present age that is supposed to be enlightened. In anycase, in medieval Spain when zealots tried to demolish the magnificent mosque at Cordoba and replace it by a cathedral, King Charles V had intervened to halt the havoc. "What you are building here", he had told the hotheads, "can be found anywhere. But what you have destroyed exists nowhere". Has there been a single such voice of sanity in Afghanistan, a land benighted by the Taliban?

The Taliban’s own excuse for their monstrous act has shifted from time to time. At one stage someone had claimed on its behalf that it was pulverising its own heritage in retaliation for the demolition of Babri Masjid in India. The alternative claim to be articulated next was that the Taliban had been driven to act desperately, if also foolishly, by its isolation and even more by the sanctions imposed by the UN at a time when arms were allegedly flowing in to their rivals, the Northern Alliance. The gullible might have swallowed this — as quite a few in this country indeed did — but then the Taliban itself decided to cut out the cackle. It proclaimed from the housetops that the only reason for its despicable decision was that the statues in human form, whether actually worshipped or not, were "un-Islamic".

This has raised other pertinent questions. Muslims have ruled Afghanistan for at least a thousand years before Mullah Mohammed Omar and his wild followers seized power in the nineties. All of them had respected the Bamiyan Buddhas as their heritage. As someone has pointed out, with an appropriate touch of irony, Mahmud of Ghazni was among such rulers. He did march to Somnath to break the idols there and on the way. But he left Bamiyan strictly alone.

In the understable angry discussion on the Bamiyan Buddhas a critical point has been generally ignored. What are the Taliban, if not a creation of Pakistan? Pakistan’s support to it is vital for its continued hold on power. Full allowance should surely be made of the fact that proteges sometimes do defy their mentors. It must also be recognised that Pakistan did join other countries in urging restraint on the Taliban. But regrettably its intervention was too late and too feeble. It was rather pathetic to watch Mr Shamshad Ahmed, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN and a former Foreign Secretary, on the CNN fumbling for words and finally coming up with "ill-considered" as the description of the horrendous act in which the Taliban regime was already engaged when he spoke.

The real worry in Pakistan, and among its well-wishers, should be what might happen next. Pakistan may have created the Taliban, nurtured them in its madrassas and sustained them in power with the constant supply of warplanes, tanks and other sophisticated weapons. But now the roles are getting reversed, ideologically at least. In the words of many Pakistanis themselves, their country is getting "Talibanised". Mr Sadruddin Agha Khan, in the letter quoted above, has asked: "How would Pakistan react if some cleric ordered the destruction of all the Indus Valley Gandhara Buddhas?"

His question is not rhetorical but very pertinent. The sway of the Taliban-like insanity in Pakistan is a regrettable fact of life. Neither the military regime presided over by General Musharraf nor those sections of Pakistani society who are dismayed by the rising tide of fundamentalism seem able to resist. This, especially in the light of what is going on in Kashmir after the third extension of the unilateral ceasefire, must be a source of major concern.

No less dismaying is the role of some sections of the Indian media that have been virtually condoning, if not applauding, the Taliban’s barbarity at Bamiyan. Their argument is convoluted to the point of being perverse. Because there are in India elements like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, they argue, the world has to live with the Taliban. The destruction of the matchless Buddhas, in their view, is justified because of the earlier demolition of the Babri Masjid. Mullah Omar and Acharya Giriraj Kishore are supposed to be the two sides of the same coin.

The destruction of the Babri Masjid was an egregious and unpardonable outrage. It is a matter of shame for this country that it has not yet punished its perpetrators. Instead, the government of the day is trying to fudge the case against some of the alleged culprits who occupy positions of power in the present set-up. But how does this justify the Taliban’s savagery? Doubtless, the VHP’s threat to avenge the blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by some similar idiocy at Ajmer or elsewhere has to be resisted by the Indian State firmly. But the curious mindset being displayed by the Taliban’s Indian apologists can in no way be defended by equating one evil with another. To do so is a perversion, not promotion, of liberal values.

The writer is a well-known political commentator


Updated: 8-3-2001

Return to "Buddhism around the World"

Top of Page