- Taliban demolish Buddha statues
KABUL (March 4, 2001): Most of the ancient
Buddhist relics, including the head and legs of two soaring statues of Buddha in central
Afghanistan, have been destroyed, despite internal pleas to save the priceless treasures,
a Taliban official said on Saturday.
What hasn't been destroyed will be
destroyed on Sunday and Monday, the Taliban's Information Minister Quadratullah Jamal
"Two-thirds of all the statues in
Afghanistan have already been destroyed, the remaining will be destroyed in the next two
"The head and legs of Buddha statues
in Bamiyan were destroyed yesterday," he said. "Our soldiers are working hard to
demolish their remaining parts. They will come down soon. We are using everything at our
disposal to destroy them."
The two Buddhas, 175 and 120 feet tall,
are hewn from the side of a mountain in Bamiyan - located roughly 130 km northwest of
The tallest statue is thought to be the
world's tallest of a Buddha standing rather than sitting.
The Taliban troops used heavy explosives
and rockets to destroy the statues carved in the third and fifth centuries, relics of
Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past. Both the statues were already damaged by artillery fire
during Afghanistan's protracted civil war. Jamal did not have details about which statue
was targeted first and whether the heads of both statues had been removed or of only one.
On Friday Taliban officials said
preparations were under way but that demolition had not begun. Jamal said his information
was from Taliban troops in Bamiyan.
The destruction was being carried out in
keeping with an order issued Monday by the Taliban's reclusive supreme leader Mullah
Mohammed Omar, to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, including the soaring Buddha
statues. He said they were idolatrous and offensive to Islam.
The order generated international outrage.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York offered to take the statues and preserve them.
The Taliban have not responded to that offer.
Also on Saturday, a special envoy of
UNESCO met Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador in neighboring Pakistan, to
register the world's outrage with the destruction.
Pierre La France, special representative
of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, said the destruction of the
statues will only worsen the Taliban's already troubled relations with the world
But Zaeef said there was no reversing the
order. "But it's a decree by ulema (clerics) and the government can't stop its
implementation," Zaeef said.
The Taliban Islamic militia, which rules
95 percent of Afghanistan, including Kabul, adheres to a strict brand of Islamic law.
Their interpretation has been questioned by Islamic scholars in other Muslim countries and
The Taliban have been unmoved by
international appeals to save the statues as historical artifacts. Some Islamic countries
have called the Taliban order to destroy the historical relics embarrassing to Islam. Even
the Taliban's closest ally, Pakistan, joined the international appeal to save the statues.
But the Taliban say yhere is no place for statues in an Islamic country.
An estimated 6,000 statues were housed in
the Kabul Museum. It's believed most have been destroyed, although the Taliban have
refused to allow anyone inside the war-ravaged building. Two armed Taliban guards keep
watch outside the building.
Previously Jamal said the Taliban would
put the ruins on display.
"Words fail me to describe adequately
my feelings of consternation and powerlessness as I see the reports of the irreversible
damage that is being done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage," Koichiro
Matsuura, director-general of the UNESCO said on Friday.
"The Japanese government is deeply
concerned," said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, spokesman for Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in
Japan, where most people consider themselves followers of both Buddhism and the native
Shinto religion. "Those statues are assets to all human
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry
spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi condemned the decision.
"Unfortunately, the Taliban's
destruction of the statues has cast doubt on the comprehensive views offered by Islamic
ideology in the world," he said, according to the official Islamic Republic News
Agency. "Clearly, the world's Muslims pin the blame on the rigid-minded
In Afghanistan's civil war, Iran supports
the northern alliance of ousted president Burhanuddin Rabbani against the ruling Taliban.
Rabbani rules in about five percent of the country and some of the groups in his alliance
espouse a brand of Islam akin to the Taliban.
In Egypt, the chief Muslim cleric, Grand
Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel, told the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat that keeping the
statues is not forbidden by Islam.
In comments published Friday, he said such
statues, like Egypt's Pharaonic monuments, bolster the economies of Islamic countries
Ancient statues are "just a recording
of history and don't have any negative impact on Muslims' beliefs," he was quoted as