- Taliban chief seeks support
from Muslim world
- (AFP, March 5, 2001)
KABUL: Taliban chief Mulla Mohammad Omar
used the Eid-al-Adha festival on Monday to urge the Muslim world to support the
destruction of ancient Buddhist icons and unite behind his vision of Islam.
The reclusive war veteran and
"Islamic scholar" said the annihilation of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan would
proceed despite vehement international condemnation and protests from Islamic states.
He said the statues, including the giant
ancient Buddhas in the central province of Bamiyan, were only "one per cent" of
Afghanistan's historical heritage.
Omar also dismissed the global outcry as a
"drama" which should be transparent to Muslims with "common sense."
"Now that we are destroying false
idols, the world has made a drama out of this. The Muslims of the world, particularly
Afghan Muslims, should use their common sense," the Taliban militia's Radio Shariat
quoted him as saying.
"I would like to ask you, do you
prefer to be called statue-destroyers or statue-sellers?"
Omar last week ordered his followers to
destroy all statues in Afghanistan, including the country's precious pre-Islamic figures,
to prevent idolatry in line with a fatwa (religious decree) from local clerics.
His comments at the start of the three-day
Islamic holiday on Monday came a day after UNESCO special envoy Peirre Lafrance apparently
failed to persuade the Afghan leadership to reverse their decision.
UN officials in neighbouring Pakistan said
Lafrance was still in the militia's southern bastion of Kandahar but it was not known if
talks with the Taliban were continuing.
Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel
said after meeting Lafrance in Kandahar on Sunday that he could see no reason to stop the
destruction, the private Afghan Islamic Press reported.
"I do not see any chance to change
our decision and stop the demolition of these statues," he was quoted as saying.
Governments across the globe, political
and economic groupings such as the United Nations and the Group of Eight, and religious
leaders including the Dalai Lama have appealed to the Taliban to rethink.
The Islamic world has also expressed its
indignation, notably Pakistan, one of only three countries which recognises the Taliban
regime and its closest ally.
Messages from Islamic states and religious
leaders have stressed that tolerance for other religions is a basic tenet of Islam.
But Omar, known as Amir-ul-Momenin (King
of the Faithful) in Taliban circles, said the issue was clear-cut and Muslims should not
be influenced by people of other faiths.
"I would like to ask the world
Muslims not to harmonize their voices with those of non-believers," he said.
"The infidels want to rob Islam of
Taliban officials have said the
"work" on the statues is nearly complete, with more than two-thirds of the
thousands of historic figures in the country already smashed.
They said the huge Bamiyan Buddhas, which
stand 165 feet and 34.5 meters tall, were attacked with rockets and shells last week and
would be reduced to rubble within days.
Carved into a sandstone mountain near the
provincial capital between the second and fifth centuries AD, the taller figure is the
largest standing Buddha in the world.
Buddhism was introduced in Afghanistan
around the third century BC and the area around Bamiyan, in the center of the country,
remained Buddhist until the arrival of Islam in the mid-800s.