MOST OF the ancient
Buddhist relics, including the head and legs of two soaring statues of Buddha in Bamiyan
in central Afghanistan, have been destroyed, despite international pleas to save the
priceless treasures, a Taliban official said on Saturday.
So the Taliban's hopes for transformation from a band of Islamic
zealots to the internationally recognised government of Afghanistan lie as shattered as
the historic statues they have labelled un-Islamic.
Despite international anger, Information and Culture Minister
Qudratullah Jamal said several dozen wooden and clay "idols" had been smashed at
historic sites in Herat, Ghazni, Kabul and Nangarhar provinces since Thursday.
"They were easy to break apart and did not take much time,"
he told reporters.
What hasn't been destroyed will be destroyed on Sunday and Monday, the
minister told the Associated Press. "Two-thirds of all the statues in Afghanistan
have already been destroyed, the remaining will be destroyed in the next two days."
"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
The two buddhas, 52.5 and 36 meters tall, are hewn from the side of a
mountain in Bamiyan - located roughly 130 km northwest of the Afghan capital Kabul. The
tallest statue is thought to be the world's tallest of a Buddha standing rather than
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
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.
Meanwhile, the Paris-based United Nations cultural agency UNESCO
arrived in Pakistan en route to Afghanistan to plead directly with the Taliban leaders to
stop destroying the priceless statues.
Envoy Pierre Lafrance, a former French ambassador to Pakistan, met the
Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, and asked for a meeting with
Taliban leader Mullah Mohamad Omar, a Pakistan-based Afghan news service said.
Lafrance delivered a message from UNESCO's director-general, General
Koichiro Matsuura, demanding a stop to the demolition, the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP)
quoted Zaeef as saying.
Zaeef said a meeting with Omar, who is based in the southern city of
Kandahar, had not yet been arranged for Lafrance but one with Taliban Foreign Minister
Abdul Wakil Muttawakil was set.
Through an unexplained error, the statues were never listed as UNESCO
World Heritage sites deserving special protection.
Mullah Omar has ruled all statues in Afghanistan should be destroyed.
The Taliban compares keeping statues with idol worship, forbidden by Islam.
The Taliban, which controls more than 90 per cent of war-torn
Afghanistan, has raised foreign wrath at a time when the country faces a growing
humanitarian crisis and is in dire need of aid.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans are fleeing their homes because of
prolonged factional conflict and the worst drought in more than three decades. The U.N.
has reported in recent weeks that hundreds have died of cold and hunger.
A statement by a U.N. Coordinator's office in Islamabad said the Afghan
humanitarian situation was "in a sharp downwards spiral that will continue until at
least next summer".
India has termed the demolition of the Buddhas "a regression into
medieval barbarism" and offered to take charge of them.
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".
Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban
government, and Buddhist Sri Lanka have sought 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 on Friday he had warned Muttawakil of world wrath in a
three-hour meeting in Kabul on Thursday.
Vendrell said he had suggested the statues be moved out of the country
and had relayed an offer from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to buy them.
"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 artefacts 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 said he had also relayed
the museum's offer to Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf.
The Association of Art Museum Directors, representing heads of 175
major museums in the United States, Canada and Mexico, said it would "stand by any
effort" to retrieve the art.