- Taliban smash ancient statues,
defy world appeals
ISLAMABAD (March 2, 2001): The radical
Taliban movement began smashing all statues from Afghanistan's rich cultural past on
Thursday, turning its back on urgent international appeals to save the ancient artifacts.
In Kabul, Mullah Qudratullah Jamal, the
ruling Taliban's information and culture minister, said centers where the campaign had
been unleashed included Bamiyan Province -- site of two soaring statues of the Buddha hewn
from a solid cliff that are the most famous relics of Afghanistan's history.
``All statues will be destroyed,'' he told
reporters. ''Whatever means of destruction are needed to demolish the statues will be
``The work began early during the day. All
of the statues are to be smashed. This also covers the idols in Bamiyan,'' he said.
Russia, Germany, India and Pakistan
condemned the destruction and appealed to the Taliban to reconsider.
International alarm was first sparked
Monday, when Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar ordered the smashing of all statues,
including the two famous Buddhas that soar 125 feet and 174 feet above Bamiyan.
The United Nations cultural agency UNESCO
Wednesday appealed directly to the Taliban -- a fundamentalist movement that regards all
human likenesses of divinity to be un-Islamic -- to reverse its decision.
``UNESCO considers this to be a crisis,''
Christian Manhart, head of UNESCO's Asian division in the cultural heritage department,
Muslim Pakistan, one of Taliban's very few
foreign supporters, joined the international chorus on Thursday.
``Pakistan attaches great importance to
and supports the preservation of the world's historical, cultural and religious
heritage,'' the foreign ministry said.
``We appeal to the Afghan government to
take measures to fully protect Afghanistan's rich historical monuments, sites and
artifacts which are part of the world's cultural heritage.''
``The government of India will raise this
issue at every international forum including the United Nations. We will make all attempts
to stop the demolition of Lord Buddha's statue,'' parliamentary affairs minister Pramod
Mahajan told parliament.
``This is not only a statue, but a legacy
of humanity. Nobody should demolish it,'' he said.
Thailand and Sri Lanka -- both largely
Buddhist nations -- have made similar appeals.
Earlier this week, U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan (news - web sites) urged the Taliban ``to do all in their power to preserve the
unique and irreplaceable relics of Afghanistan's rich heritage, both Islamic and
pre-Islamic,'' a spokesman said.
``This intention (to destroy the statues)
can only be classed as an assault on cultural and historical treasures, not only of the
Afghan people but of world civilization,'' the Russian foreign ministry said in a
``The Taliban's vandalism against material
objects of the rich spiritual heritage of the ancient Afghan world shows their clear
enmity to common human values,'' it added.
``Germany is appalled by the willful
destruction of cultural artifacts in Afghanistan. The damage to culturally unique Buddha
statues by the Taliban cannot be justified,'' the foreign ministry said in a statement
issued in Berlin.
The Taliban has steadily conquered most of
Afghanistan in recent years, and now controls its cities and highways.
The destruction of artifacts -- also under
way in the national museum in Kabul, which housed a prized collection of early Buddhist
statues -- has inflicted new damage to the Taliban's already poor ties with most
Heavily criticized for its restrictions on
women and for its public executions, the Taliban is recognized by only three states:
Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Afghanistan has suffered destruction at
the hands of many conquerors in the past. Most recently it suffered a Soviet invasion in
1979, an anti-communist insurgency backed by the West in the 1980s and a civil war in the
The United Nations estimates that up to
600,000 Afghans have been displaced or have become refugees this year because of conflict
and a devastating drought.