Holocaust of human heritage
Taliban worst culprit in history
(Chandigarh, March 8): No words
can be strong enough to condemn what the unspeakable the Taliban regime of Afghanistan has
done, not in a fit of blind rage but as an act of cold-blooded zealotry that Mr Atal
Behari Vajpayee has rightly described as "barbaric". Not since the Nazis has
anything so vile and horrific as the destruction of the unique and priceless fifth-century
giant Buddhas of Bamiyan been heard of. This savagery is comparable not to the orgy of
book burning by Hitler and his henchmen but, in terms of culture and human heritage, to
their holocaust of six million Jews.
Sadly, the foul deed has already been done. The incomparable works of
art, sculpture and architecture that were the proud pre-Islamic heritage of not just
Afghanistan but entire humanity now lie shattered to smithereens. Further attempts by
sections of the international community, including UNESCO, rather belated in the first
place, are now pointless. Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan, in a letter to The International
Herald Tribune, had aptly compared the destroyed heritage to the "Pharaonic monuments
of Egypt, the Babylonian treasures of Iraq, the pre-Islamic masterpieces of Persepolis in
Iran", the Greco-Roman temples and so on. To point out all this to the medieval and
mad mullahs operating from Kandahar and Kabul, however, was like the proverbial playing of
the been (a musical instrument) to a buffalo.
Does this mean that the world can only wring its hands and do nothing
further about the monstrosity at Bamiyan? Not at all. The international community must
unite to pillory Afghanistans barbaric rulers at every step and in every manner.
They may control most of the Afghan territory. But only three countries Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia and the UAE recognise the Taliban regime. The UN, UNESCO, other
international bodies and the numerous countries that have spoken out agony against the
outrage must see to it that the Taliban regime does not get international recognition at
all. This is the minimum price the vandals must be made to pay for their villainy. The UN
sanctions against it must be enforced rigorously and indeed intensified.
The suggestion for a complete de-recognition of the Taliban has come
significantly from Mr Dimitri Loundras, the Greek Ambassador to Pakistan who also heads a
UN committee to deal with the Taliban on the archaeological issues. Other Pakistan-based
Ambassadors had joined him and UNESCOs special envoy as well as a representative of
the UN Secretary-General, in frantic but fruitless last minute attempts to reason with the
Taliban. It is gratifying that a number of Muslim countries have condemned the Taliban.
They have also joined a host of Muslim intellectuals across the world, including a large
number from this country, in declaring the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas as
The rage and the sorrow of the Buddhist countries such as Thailand,
Japan, South Korea and Mongolia are limitless. The Dalai Lama also has given voice to deep
anguish. The Japanese Ambassador to Pakistan has cried out against "betrayal".
These countries ought to be active at the UN even more than India that is, of course, the
birthplace of the Buddha. As Jawaharlal Nehru once said, Buddhism might have taken root in
other countries but "India has always lived under the Buddhas umbrella".
Some have already started arguing that, however, deplorable the action
of the Taliban, such vandalism, based on religion or ideology, has been a part of life
almost throughout history. They can cite any number of instances beginning from the
destruction by the all-conquering Romans of the Second Temple of the Jews in Jerusalem in
70 AD when they crushed a Jewish revolt in their empire. The argument is specious and must
be rejected. What happened in medieval times cannot justify its repetition in the present
age that is supposed to be enlightened. In anycase, in medieval Spain when zealots tried
to demolish the magnificent mosque at Cordoba and replace it by a cathedral, King Charles
V had intervened to halt the havoc. "What you are building here", he had told
the hotheads, "can be found anywhere. But what you have destroyed exists
nowhere". Has there been a single such voice of sanity in Afghanistan, a land
benighted by the Taliban?
The Talibans own excuse for their monstrous act has shifted from
time to time. At one stage someone had claimed on its behalf that it was pulverising its
own heritage in retaliation for the demolition of Babri Masjid in India. The alternative
claim to be articulated next was that the Taliban had been driven to act desperately, if
also foolishly, by its isolation and even more by the sanctions imposed by the UN at a
time when arms were allegedly flowing in to their rivals, the Northern Alliance. The
gullible might have swallowed this as quite a few in this country indeed did
but then the Taliban itself decided to cut out the cackle. It proclaimed from the
housetops that the only reason for its despicable decision was that the statues in human
form, whether actually worshipped or not, were "un-Islamic".
This has raised other pertinent questions. Muslims have ruled
Afghanistan for at least a thousand years before Mullah Mohammed Omar and his wild
followers seized power in the nineties. All of them had respected the Bamiyan Buddhas as
their heritage. As someone has pointed out, with an appropriate touch of irony, Mahmud of
Ghazni was among such rulers. He did march to Somnath to break the idols there and on the
way. But he left Bamiyan strictly alone.
In the understable angry discussion on the Bamiyan Buddhas a critical
point has been generally ignored. What are the Taliban, if not a creation of Pakistan?
Pakistans support to it is vital for its continued hold on power. Full allowance
should surely be made of the fact that proteges sometimes do defy their mentors. It must
also be recognised that Pakistan did join other countries in urging restraint on the
Taliban. But regrettably its intervention was too late and too feeble. It was rather
pathetic to watch Mr Shamshad Ahmed, Pakistans Ambassador to the UN and a former
Foreign Secretary, on the CNN fumbling for words and finally coming up with
"ill-considered" as the description of the horrendous act in which the Taliban
regime was already engaged when he spoke.
The real worry in Pakistan, and among its well-wishers, should be what
might happen next. Pakistan may have created the Taliban, nurtured them in its madrassas
and sustained them in power with the constant supply of warplanes, tanks and other
sophisticated weapons. But now the roles are getting reversed, ideologically at least. In
the words of many Pakistanis themselves, their country is getting "Talibanised".
Mr Sadruddin Agha Khan, in the letter quoted above, has asked: "How would Pakistan
react if some cleric ordered the destruction of all the Indus Valley Gandhara
His question is not rhetorical but very pertinent. The sway of the
Taliban-like insanity in Pakistan is a regrettable fact of life. Neither the military
regime presided over by General Musharraf nor those sections of Pakistani society who are
dismayed by the rising tide of fundamentalism seem able to resist. This, especially in the
light of what is going on in Kashmir after the third extension of the unilateral
ceasefire, must be a source of major concern.
No less dismaying is the role of some sections of the Indian media that
have been virtually condoning, if not applauding, the Talibans barbarity at Bamiyan.
Their argument is convoluted to the point of being perverse. Because there are in India
elements like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, they argue, the world has to live with the
Taliban. The destruction of the matchless Buddhas, in their view, is justified because of
the earlier demolition of the Babri Masjid. Mullah Omar and Acharya Giriraj Kishore are
supposed to be the two sides of the same coin.
The destruction of the Babri Masjid was an egregious and unpardonable
outrage. It is a matter of shame for this country that it has not yet punished its
perpetrators. Instead, the government of the day is trying to fudge the case against some
of the alleged culprits who occupy positions of power in the present set-up. But how does
this justify the Talibans savagery? Doubtless, the VHPs threat to avenge the
blasting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by some similar idiocy at Ajmer or elsewhere has to be
resisted by the Indian State firmly. But the curious mindset being displayed by the
Talibans Indian apologists can in no way be defended by equating one evil with
another. To do so is a perversion, not promotion, of liberal values.
The writer is a well-known political commentator