This week marks the 11th anniversary of the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas. Of all the atrocities Taliban did to Afghanistan, blowing up centuries old symbol of a civilization and human heritage redefined evil.
Some former Taliban officials who are branded as 'moderates' nowadays, never feel shame in defending that crime against civilization when asked in occasional media interviews. They make new explanations as each year comes and anniversary of the destruction gets usual not-so-different media coverage. Two so-called Western scholars out for cheap fame are doing the same in the guise of 'revisionist' review of our recent history. They are trying to prove that it was not the Taliban who actually blew up the Buddha statues, but elements of Al-Qaeda.
Whenever I visit Bamiyan, the ruins on the cliff where the largest Buddha statues of the World once stood reminds me of the barbarity of the Taliban. I have been writing on each anniversary of the destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas. It is a chance to express the untold pains in heart. One realizes the essence of a treasure when it's lost. We have lost a symbol of our past-glory and a heritage of human civilization. It was more than a 9/11 to us. We lost our twin towers of history.
It was this unfortunate week 11 years ago in 2001, when the Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered their destruction. Kofi Annan, then UN secretary general, sent his special envoy to urge the Taliban leadership not to destroy the centuries' old treasures. UNESCO asked the Organization of Islamic Countries to pressurize the Taliban and three OIC members – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – made appeals. The director of the Metropolitan Museum in New York even invited the Taliban leadership to sell the Buddhas to western museums, but all in vain.
Large protest rallies were organized by the adherents of Buddhism in several cities of the world. But the forces of evil—Taliban—didn't hear. On March 09 after offering Friday Prayers, they started planting bombs inside Buddha statues. Some local people were arrested, tied with bombs in their back and lowered from the top roof of the statues to plant explosive material in the holes of statues. Later some of them were killed. Pictures of the destruction caused widespread horror and the world finally recognized the face of Taliban.
During frequent visits to Bamiyan, in 2008, I managed to meet a survivor who had taken part in planting explosives in the roof holes and body structure of the statues. Abdul Rahim told me that after offering Friday prayers, the Taliban forced some arrested local people to carry explosives on to the roof of the statues and plant them in the holes."Some people refused to do this," Rahim said, "and they were shot dead." He continued: "Seeing their fate, we trembled and took the materials on our backs, tied with rope on our waist, [and were] lowered from the roof down to the body of the Buddhas to put the dynamite."
It took almost a week of dynamiting to complete the destruction. Rahim added: "They [the Taliban] slaughtered 50 cows in celebration." A local resident, Khaliq, put it like this for me: "It took two centuries to build Shamama and Salsal [local names of the female and male Buddha statues] and the Taliban destroyed them in one week."
The UN marks the anniversary of Buddhas' destruction each year. There has been increasing demands for international support for reconstruction of the statues. Last year some friends launched online campaigns. But unfortunately, UNESCO doesn't support the calls for reconstruction of one of the Buddha statues. They have announced to help establish museums in Bamiyan. But that can't be equivalent of the giant Buddha statues
The government of Afghanistan opposes rebuilding, saying the cost does not make sense when people are living below the poverty line.
In an interview in 2008, Governor Sarabi told me: "At least one of the Buddhas should be [re]built. It would be a great support to the economy of this poor province, attracting tourists." The financial cost of the reconstruction could be partly met from a world tour of parts of the destroyed statues, such as the exhibition at the British Museum, to generate donations and income.
But the government seems to have no interest at all. Despite the fact that millions are being used in preserving other important historical sites and monuments, the attitude about Bamiyan Buddhas has been a different story. There is not even any official anniversary event by the Ministry of Information and Culture. They oppose the reconstruction with a ridiculous logic, that if rebuilt, the symbol of brutality of Taliban will be removed.
Seeing the lack of international interest, particularly in the wake of the exit strategy of the US and NATO, and possible opposition from radical elements in the country, I have less hope for reconstruction.
Recently I read a poem by Afghan journalist and poet, Lina Rozbih Haidari about the Buddha statues. She has dedicated the lines to the fallen statues.
Listen to my voice,
That rolls, reflects and echoes in the sad and broken valleys of your land,
Listen to my voice, as I murmur your pain that is closely woven into mine,
Listen to my tale of senseless and insane destruction of a civilization,
Bear with me, as I tell you the tales of terror, fear and horror of your land,
As I tell you the saga of helpless Afghans,
As I mourn the tragedy of your destruction, and the fall of a great nation,
Your ruins and my head both did not crunch the thirst of barbarians,
How ridiculous that your silent, peaceful existence and my spark of ideas and logic,
Posed a deadly threat to THEIR hollow, poisonous existence!
Your ashes and my beheaded body,
Went unnoticed and forgotten,
Just like the death of thousands before you and after me,
In the precious land, sadly ruled by ignorant unruly.
Your place is empty,
Like an eye drawn from its socket,
When my mother went blind,
As she sobbed herself to sleep each night with the vision of my beheaded body.
Your destruction will always remind mankind of the suffering,
Of women beaten, men beheaded, and children imprisoned.
Though your tenacious statue is no more,
We can declare with pride, honor, and glory,
That Buddha suffered alongside his people to ensure,
The world witnessed and will remember forever the agony of the Afghan nation.
I know that You wanted to be no more because of intolerable savagery,
That You longed for ending the endless pain that you felt in your nation,
They tell us You intended to fall in the land of lunies,
Not as a gesture of surrender and submission,
But as a rebellious voice of voiceless,