- Bamiyan Buddhas bypassed in southeast Asian front
- Harvey Stockwin
HONG KONG (March 4, 2001): UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mary Robinson this week sharply criticised Asian nations for remaining silent in the face
of the horrendous communal violence in Central Kalimantan during the last two weeks.
Questioned by the BBC, Robinson pointed out the inconsistency of worrying about where the
chaos in Indonesia might lead, but saying nothing about the causes of the chaos.
Today the same criticism could be made of southeast and east Asian
nations as they broadly remain silent in the face of the Taliban directive ordering the
desecration destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.
Undoubtedly there is deep concern in southeast and east Asia, among
devout Buddhists and those concerned with the preservation of art treasures over the
Taliban's vandalism. But Afghanistan is a faraway land, and what little is known about it
suggests that the Taliban are unlikely to respond to foreign pressures.
In southeast Asia, the largest Buddhist nation, Thailand, has been the
only one to officially express a mild word of hope that ``the statues will be kept for the
benefit of mankind''. Thailand's Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai has at least taken
the trouble to write to UNESCO expressing concern. Other foreign ministers in the region
have yet to do even that. But for the most part, the Thais, including the World Buddhist
Fellowship, headquartered in Bangkok, have spoken more in sorrow than in anger.
Naturally Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid cannot bring the
weight of the world's largest Muslim nation to bear on the issue. Wahid is under such
heavy attack at home for remaining relatively silent overseas while hundreds and perhaps
thousands of Madurese were being slaughtered in Borneo, that it would be totally
incongruous for him to put in a word on behalf of some stone statues.
But for the most part, southeast Asians cannot break themselves of the
habit of ``non-interference in the affairs of other nations'', an attitude which, as
Robinson pointed out, is hardly relevant when great injustices or, as in the Bamiyan case,
outrageous actions of vandalism are being perpetrated.
At first sight, East Asia is no different. China, too, was so
preoccupied this week defending itself by asserting that criticisms of its human rights
record by the US and others were an unwarranted interference, that it, too had little
inclination to interfere in Afghanistan.
But at least there are indications that Japan, in which Buddhist
influence is still strong, will give a careful reading to Indian Prime Minister Atal
Bihari Vajpayee's letter on the Bamiyan tragedy when it arrives.
An editorial in the Japan Times said the Taliban leaders had
earlier promised to preserve Afghanistan's historical heritage and suggested that the
motives for the current volte face ``far transcend religion''. Pointing to the
January massacre of some 300 Hazaras by Taliban forces at Yakaolang, and to the fact that
UN officials have warned that up to one million displaced Afghans are now facing death
from hunger or cold, the paper suggested that the latest Taliban moves against the statues
might have been timed ``to distract Afghans from their miseries''.
The Thai media, however, is silent on the issue. There is no sign of
the story or any reaction to it on the websites of The Bangkok Post and The Thai
Nation, the two English language dailies in Bangkok.