- Bombarding at Bamiyan
- Sanjoy Hazarika
March 10, 2001: The devastation of history as seen in the Taliban's
systematic destruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan should have been expected.
After all, this is not some revisionist group or radical fundamentalist gang out to stamp
its own special terrorist imprimatur on our times. The motive is deeper and therefore,
culturally and philosophically, a greater assault on the truth.
The outrage at Bamiyan is not an assertion of Islamic purity but should
be seen for what it truly represents; an unmitigated fear of facing up to the past, of a
refusal to acknowledge that past as part of a national history and identity.
What future awaits a nation so fearful of its past? It is not as if
history began with one messiah and there was nothing before him. This is a fact accepted
by religions and religious leaders across the world. The fear of the past makes men (and
women) do strange and seemingly illogical things. But let us, for a moment, look at what
the Taliban and its shadowy leadership were seeking to establish through the murders of
two great unarmed, peaceful religious figures at Bamiyan.
There are those who say that the Taliban govern by terror, that in
their age and their land, women cannot walk about unveiled, that men cannot trim their
beards, that prayer five times a day is a must for every citizen. This is the obvious.
What we can only guess at is the violence with which such edicts are implemented. The
decadence of the outside world is attacked. But what of the fear and frustration that the
thought police bring to the streets, into homes, offices and schools. Their job is to harm
those who may be straying from the narrow Talibanistic path. This is not necessarily the
right path, no matter how strongly they may declare their religiosity.
Thus, to see the destruction of the Buddhas as an statement of
intolerance or fanaticism is to miss the point. It is a decision taken out of fear. No
matter how angrily the Taliban may deny this or however they may seek to justify the act,
we should remind ourselves that the other face of terror is fear. In this case, it is fear
of the knowledge that the history of Afghanistan is greater than its Islamic existence. In
most societies, endowed with a sense of history, this reality would be accepted and people
would move on. Bamiyan and Kabul as well as other Afghan towns were on the Great Silk
Route which brought ideas, trade, cultures and conquerors to a region stretching from
Europe through Central Asia and India to China. This is a part of the history of the world
and those who seek to deny this are diminishing their own countries and societies.
The Taliban wishes to assert that what Bamiyan does not represent is
its past. Perhaps it is right. After all, it did not exist at the time. But the Bamiyan
rock cuts are a majestic, indivisible part of the region which bombs and bluster cannot
One wonders what are the thoughts of those who have awakened to the
sight of the Buddhas over the centuries? Are they happy that these gentle giants, who
sought no harm to others and only their good, have been blasted to bits in the face of a
worldwide outcry seeking their safety? Did they see this as a loss of something that had
been an integral part of their lives, of their waking, sleeping, living and dying?
If the bombings were not bad enough, there are worrying reports about
the treatment of religious minorities in the country. Hindus and Sikhs have reportedly
been ordered to wear patches of yellow on their clothes to show their religious
affiliation; their homes are also to be painted with yellow. An Afghan minister sought to
impress the world media by keeping up a barrage of words about how the statues were being
brought down. In his haste, he let slip a great truth, which the Taliban would do well to
remember: It is easier to destroy than to build.
The bombings at Bamiyan need to be viewed in this light. It is not just
a repudiation of the past but a concern about what may yet be. One is not talking in terms
of new faiths taking over there. But is there a fear among the rulers of today that the
gentleness of tolerance will overcome the violence of terror and hate?
It is a fact that men and women of other religious and philosophical
persuasions walked the ancient roads and valleys of Afghanistan, at a time when it was
divided into many conflicting tribes and communities. The fierce loyalties inspired by
tribal codes are legendary. They persist to this day, making any effort at governance near
It is now over a decade since the last of the Soviet troops left the
Central Asian country. In this period, there has been a singular failure to forge an
Afghan identity acceptable to all groups. This is connected to the failure to form an
administration that can bring peace and the basics of development such as drinking water,
power, roads - forget about equality and justice. It is a tragedy of inestimable
proportions that sees over a million Afghans, a sizable proportion of the national
population, still living in refugee camps in Pakistan.
Surely, the camp people have a right to return to their homeland. Yet,
they remain reluctant to go back until so long as terror and fear, those inseparable
twins, stalk Afghanistan long after liberation from the imperialist.
The Taliban may have destroyed the Buddhas. But what have they built in
their rule? It is worth reflecting here on Babur, the first Mughal emperor, who is buried
on the outskirts of Kabul.
Babur is as much a part of the history of India as he is of
Afghanistan, Samarkhand and Farghana. There are those who rail against him and his
invasion of India in 1526. But few would contest that his victory over Ibrahim Lodi at
Panipat was one of the decisive moments in Indian, nay Asian, history. The BJP and its
cohorts would do well to rein in their extreme elements in the following days. We cannot
allow a replication either of Bamiyan here or of the destruction of the Babri Masjid or
any harm to the Muslim community.
A nation that denies its past cannot have a future.