By Sankar Ray
The Taliban leadership today regrets its adventurist stand of ‘smashing the rare sandstone relief of Lord Buddha in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan in the very early March 2001. Although the Islamic fundamentalist outfit, is yet to admit this openly, the repentance was writ on the face of Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen, while speaking to the Reuters last week. “All antique artefacts will be preserved in their place. They should be preserved for the history and culture education of the upcoming generations.” This is a posture in the affirmative to the grand project of the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul in its centenary year for ‘restoration of heritage, identity, and the past’.
The apparent change of heart might even be a tactical retreat under pressure from the US government which realises the myopic encouragement – materially and politically – to the Taliban in order to push back the erstwhile Soviet army permanently. The irony of the history was that Washington took the main initiative at the 94th plenary of the UN General Assembly on 9 March, 2001 while the Taliban did dogmatically stick to the adventurism of the high-voltage show of ‘Political Islam’ of bumptious brass of the Taliban.
The then Taliban government’s Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef endorsed the vow to smash the statues completely when he stated bluntly endorsing the act. Stunning was the expression of solidarity from the head of Jama Masjid, Delhi. “I do not condemn the Taliban decision. When the Babri mosque was demolished in India, Islamic countries reacted sharply. The then Indian government had said it was the country’s internal affair. Why cannot the Taliban decision be taken as their internal affair?” The jibe was at the then Prime Minister of India P V Narasimha Rao.
However, the NDA government with Atal Bihari Vajpayee went hand in hand in endorsing the resolution that strongly indicted Taliban act of mega-hooliganism along with 80-plus countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, UK, USA, France, Russian Federation and Denmark while Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and most of the Islamic countries. Now many of them support the endeavour to restore the artefacts that possess artistic and historical values.
The US-Afghan project is essentially a venture to restore the legendary architectural treasures – all pertaining to Buddha. It’s a three-year US-funded project where Afghan conservators have been at work together with experts from the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute which imparts necessary assistance and expertise such as proper use of chemicals and glues for restoration work. They also adopt techniques like 3-D imaging in order to reconstruct from archived photos showing the statues intact and also sort and reassemble stucco shards of Buddha faces, hands and torsos. It was possible in 2015 to restore the giant statues of Bamyan 3-D light projection. The taller of the two Buddhas was of more than 170 feet in height, followed by the second statue at nearly 115 feet – once the world’s largest standing Buddhas.
Those artefacts were of priceless historic value, he continued. Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage was of vital importance not only to that country, but to the whole world. The European Union strongly urged the Taliban leadership to take immediate action to prevent further destruction of the irreplaceable relics. It strongly condemned the deeply tragic decision by the Taliban and urged it to revoke its decision and show the spirit of tolerance enjoined upon it by Islam and respect the international sentiment in that regard..Mohammad Fahim Rahimi, director of National Museum aptly said. “Buddhism was practised here for more than 1,000 years. That’s a very large part of our history.
The militant Islamic fanatics ensured perishing of artefacts dating from the third century when many Afghans practiced Buddhism. Which was why two mammoth Buddha statues were built in the Bamyan province. But scores of smaller ones excavated from monasteries and preserved at the national museum. Interestingly, war lords minted huge money by selling artefacts they grabbed to western collectors.
One can’t agree more with conservators who braved threats from the armed Islamic extremists who wanted lists and details of artefacts. To quote Sherazuddin Saifi, one of them, “They wanted us to tell them the number of antiquities and we ignored their request, but some days later they came and started breaking the antiquities”
There is no doubt that the antiquities are the national treasure, with history, embossed. The international community is morally committed to the Buddhists who had not indulged in sanguinary clashes on religious lines. (IPA Service)