Wednesday, 28 March
to start "soon" destruction of Shi'a mosques and symbols
By Safa Haeri
PARIS 27 Mar. (IPS) The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, encouraged by Saudi
Arabia, is to embark soon on the destruction of all monuments, pilgrimage
places, shrines and mosques belonging to Shi'ite faith, according to an informed
"Now that the ruling Taleban have destroyed historic Buddha statues, they
would start soon the systematic destruction of all the major shrines and mosques
that belongs to the Shi'a, including the "Rowza" shrine in Mazar
Sharif, the "Jam Minars" in Heart or the Shah Shamshireh mosque and
"Pir Boland" pilgrimage place in Kabul", said Mr. Latif Pedram, a
Paris-based professor of oriental studies.
Observing that both the Vahabites and the Taleban Sunni consider the Shi'a as
"infidels" and stranger to Islam, Mr. Pedram said the Saudis are
giving the Taleban "millions of Dollars" in order to eradicate all
symbols of Shi'ism and replace them with Vahabite mosques and shrines.
Vahabisme is the official religion in Saudi Arabia, one of the richest of Arab
nations while majority of the Iranians, the Iraqis, The Azeris and the Aranis
(republic of Azerbaijan) are Shi'a
Muslims. Shi'as also forms between 20 to 25 per cent of the populations in neighbouring
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey and possesses historic monuments and mosques.
Mr. Pedram said both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are encouraging Taleban to
"clean" the country from the signs and symbols of all other religions
that are not of Sunni or Vahabi Islams.
The money wealthy Vahabites pour into Ben Laden coffers not only helps
strengthening Saudi influence in the region and the gradual replacing of Shi'ism
by Vahabism, but also is a way of satisfying their religious duties, said Mr.
Pedram, who is also a journalist.
Speaking in an interview with Iran Press Service, Mr. Pedram said the recent
visit to the United States of Rahamatollah Hashemi, the 24 years old
"adviser" to the Taleban's supreme leader Mollah Mohammad Omar, was
both arranged and worked out by the Pakistan diplomacy aimed at
"reactivating" Taleban's presence in America.
"The main goal of Rahmatollah is to brief the Americans on Ben Laden issue,
to explain them Mollah Omar's stand on the subject and at the same time strike a
new understanding with Washington", the Afghan scholar said.
Last week, the Envoy delivered a letter from the Taleban leader for President
George W. Bush, calling for better Afghan-US relations and offering new round of
negotiations concerning Mr. Osama Ben Laden, a wealthy Saudi anti-American
"crusader" accused by Washington of several terrorist operations on
American interests, including the twin bombing of US embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania in 1994.
Mr. Pedram confirmed that thanks to millions, if not billions, he get from other
wealthy Arabs to continue his crusade, Mr. Ben Laden has become "almost
independent" from the ruling Taleban.
"With the money he has, Ben Laden has raised an army of Arabs, Afghans,
Pakistanis and other Muslims and at the same time pays handsomely some of the
most influential orthodox ulemas around Mollah Omar", Mr. Pedram pointed
Not only Ben Laden has become an important and influential force in Afghanistan
independent of the Taleban establishment, but also even Omar himself can hardly
make any decision on him alone, Afghan watchers said.
Mr. Pedram doubted the Americans resolve on the Taleban, pointing that in the
absence of any alternative, the Taleban are the best asset the Americans have in
curtailing the influence of Russia and Iran in the area.
"In the eventual case the Americans want to apply serious pressures on
Iran, the Taleban are there to immediately create trouble for Iran at the
borders and even provide bases to Iranians opposed to the regime, like the
Baghdad-based Mujahedeen Khalq", Mr. Pedram noted.
Actually Taleban did offer bases to the MKO at the height of military tension
that erupted more than a year ago, placing the two nations at the brink of war.
"If Washington was serious in getting rid of the Taleban, it should have
started by putting pressure on Pakistan, the Taleban's masters", Mr. Pedram
observed, adding: "But the problem facing the Americans is that outside the
Ben Laden factor, they need the Taleban to advance their policy in this
strategic region of Asia".
He said the "paradox" of the absence of a clear American policy for
this region is that Ahmad Shah Mas'ood, the veteran Afghan Commander who
continue to resist the Taleban had no other choice but turning to Russia, China,
India and Iran, "all US foes" for military support.
Monday 12 March
Buddhas destroyed Completely
KABUL, March 11 (AFP) - Afghanistan's two colossal Buddhist figures were
completely destroyed Sunday, the Taliban militia said, as a delegation of
key Islamic clerics arrived in a last-gasp bid to save them.
"Consider them finished," Taliban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutmaen told
AFP from the fundamentalist Islamic militia's stronghold in the southern
city of Kandahar.
Although he said he did not have exact details, he expected the demolition
of the ancient Buddha figures to have been completed after they were razed
by up to "90 percent" with dynamite on Saturday.
The extent of the damage is impossible to confirm as the religious militia
has blocked independent observers from visiting central Bamiyan province,
the scene of heavy fighting recently.
The Taliban have said the huge figures, carved into sandstone cliffs in
Bamiyan city more than 1,500 years ago when Afghanistan was a seat of
Buddhism, are "false idols" and must be destroyed in line with
Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammad Omar issued a decree two weeks ago to
demolish the statues, saying his decision was based on orders of God and the
Koran, Islam's holy book. Amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts, Taliban
Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel held talks in neighbouring Pakistan
Sunday with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Mutawakel has said he would tell Annan the destruction of the statues was
"an internal religious issue" and not aimed at
"challenging" the world, but details of their discussions have not
As the Taliban ignored international protests and calls to preserve the
statues, clerics from the prestigious Al-Azhar university in Egypt
reportedly arrived in Kandahar for talks with Omar and Islamic scholars.
The Afghan Islamic Press, a Pakistan-based private news agency, said the
Egyptians were trying to convince the Taliban leadership that Islamic law
did not require the destruction of statues to stop idolatry. The
delegation includes Egypt's top religious leader, Mufti Sheikh Nasr Farid
Wassel, who told reporters in Cairo on Saturday that "from a religious
viewpoint it is clear -- these statues are part of the humanity's heritage
and do not affect Islam at all."
Wassel was also travelling with representatives from the Organisation of the
Islamic Conference, including Qatar's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmud and two top Sunni clerics, Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi
and Mohamed al-Rawi.
Pakistan, the Taliban's closest ally, dispatched Interior Minister Moinuddin
Haider to Kandahar on Saturday but he failed to persuade Mullah Omar to
withdraw his edict.
"Mullah Omar stated that ... it was not possible for them to review the
decision," the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.
"From the discussions it became apparent that the process of
destruction of statues including those at Bamiyan was initiated immediately
after the issuance of the edict."
Taliban spokesman Mutmaen dismissed rumours Omar was considering ways of
softening his edict. The Taliban were hit with fresh UN sanctions in
January over their refusal to extradite indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden,
and the foreign minister said he would raise the matter with Annan during
Buddha of Bamiyan statue stands over 160 feet high at the foot of the Hindu
Kush mountains of central Afghanistan, prior to its destruction
Monday 05 March
Denounces of Ancient Statues in Afghanistan
TEHRAN -- The
(Iranian) Cultural Heritage Organization (CHO) in its second statement on
Saturday voiced deep sorrow over demolition of ancient statues of Afghanistan by
the Taliban militia.
The CHO urged all
countries and international organizations, particularly the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to adopt swift
measures to halt the Taliban action. The statement said that in the year 2001,
designated by the United Nations as the Year of Dialogue Amongst Civilizations
on the proposal of President Mohammad Khatami, destruction of the monuments that
are symbols of civilizations and dialogue come as a surprise. It seems that
Taliban has not yet been able to win a prestige due to its anti-humane measures,
said the statement, adding that to compensate for its failure, the militia has
now foolishly taken monuments of Afghanistan as a hostage. Even worse is that
the militia is acting in the name of Islam to inflict heavy damages on Islamic
community worldwide, especially the Muslim people of Afghanistan. It said that
the CHO reiterates that Taliban action is not based on lofty teachings of Islam
and is merely aimed to protect the interests of the outfit. Based on latest
reports, Taliban has launched operations to remove statues of the age of
antiquity in Afghanistan which are not related to Islamic era. "The brutal
act might entail unpleasant consequences for Muslim minorities in other
countries," warned the statement.
The CHO said,
foolish statements raised by Taliban militia in that connection are against
faith, knowledge and insult to Afghan people. It condemned the destruction of
cultural works in Afghanistan on the basis of unfounded ideology.
Sunday 04 March
reject Iranian offer to take Buddhas
ISLAMABAD, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil on Sunday
rejected an Iranian offer to take Afghanistan's historic Buddha statues into
The rejection overshadowed a visit by UNESCO envoy Pierre Lafrance, who left
Islamabad for Afghanistan on Sunday on a mission to save the statues from
destruction by the Taliban.
A senior official of the Iranian foreign ministry made the offer to
Mutawakil by phone on Sunday morning, the Afghan foreign minister told the
Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency.
Mutawakil rejected both Iran's offer to buy the statues from Afghanistan or
remove them to Iran for safe-keeping, saying both options were in conflict
with Islamic teaching. "We accept it is our duty to protect
archaeological heritage," Mutawakil said, "but Islam is against
keeping statues. Hence the order to destroy them."
He continued: "The question of removing them would have arisen if we
did not have museums. As for buying the statues, Islam teaches that one
should not wish on another Muslim something that you would not wish on
yourself - and both our countries are Muslim."
While Lafrance was meeting in Islamabad with a diplomatic representative of
the regime on Saturday, the Taliban minister in charge of culture vowed that
the destruction of the statues would continue.
Lafrance expressed his anger and demanded an immediate stop to the
destruction when he talked with Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's
ambassador to Pakistan.
The targets include two unique Buddha relics which are on the UNESCO world
heritage list. Zaeef replied that the statues were being eliminated under
Lafrance is set to meet with Mutawakil in Kandahar, the Taliban headquarters
in southwestern Afghanistan. Lafrance, formerly France's ambassador to
Pakistan and Iran, was commissioned by UNESCO director-general Koichiro
Matsuura to talk to the Taliban. But the
Taliban minister in charge of cultural issues, Mullah Qudratullah Jamaal,
vowed in the Afghan capital of Kabul that no statue would be spared.
He told reporters that two-thirds of statues and relics had already been
destroyed and the rest would be destroyed within two or three days. Dozens
of clay and wooden statues had been smashed, he said. "Our people are
destroying statues with axes and shovels to make sure
nothing of the statues remains intact."
When asked about the fate of the giant Buddha statues carved out of a
mountain face in the 6th century in Bamiyan, central Afghanistan, he said:
"Let me assure you neither their legs nor heads will be spared."
Demolished Head And Legs Of Ancient Buddha Statues
soldiers demolished the head and legs of the world-famous ancient statues of
Buddha in central Afghanistan, defying international pleas to protect the
priceless historical treasures, a Taliban official said Saturday.
"The head and legs of Buddha statues in Bamiyan were destroyed
yesterday," the Taliban's Information Minister Quadratullah Jamal told
The Associated Press.
"Our soldiers are working hard to demolish their remaining parts. They
will come down soon," he said.
The two Buddhas, 52.5 and 36 meters tall, are hewn from the side of a
mountain in Bamiyan located roughly 130 kilometers northwest of the Afghan
capital Kabul. The 52.5-meter statue is thought to be thought to be
the world's tallest of a Buddha standing rather than sitting.
The Taliban troops used heavy explosives to destroy the statues carved in
the third and fifth centuries, relics of Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past.
Both the statues were already damaged by artillery fire during Afghanistan's
protracted civil war.
Jamal didn't have details about which statue was targeted first and whether
the heads of both statues had been removed or only one. On Friday Taliban
officials said preparations were under way but that demolition hadn't begun.
Jamal said he had been in contact with troops in Bamiyan and the destruction
was being carried out in keeping with the Taliban's reclusive supreme leader
Mullah Mohammed Omar, who ordered all statues in Afghanistan, including the
soaring Buddha statues, destroyed because they offended Islam.
The order generated international outrage. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in
New York offered to take the statues and preserve them. The Taliban haven't
responded to that offer.
Acceptance might save the thousands of smaller statues in the Kabul Museum,
but won't preserve the giant ones carved into the mountainside.
CLOSET ALLY HAS DECRIED STATUES DESTRUCTION
The Taliban Islamic militia, which rules 95% of Afghanistan, including
Kabul, adheres to a strict brand of Islamic law that has been questioned by
Islamic scholars in other Muslim countries and Islamic institutions.
The Taliban have been unmoved by international appeals to save the statues
as historical artifacts. Some Islamic countries have called the Taliban
order to destroy the historical relics embarrassing to Islam.
Taliban's closest ally, Pakistan, joined the international appeal to save
TALIBAN DID NOT BUDGE
"Our Ulema (clerics) have given an edict. It cannot be taken back.
There is no place for statues in an Islamic country," Jamal said.
It wasn't immediately known whether the Taliban have destroyed the estimated
6,000 statues in the Kabul Museum. But Jamal said statues were being
destroyed all over the country.
In Europe, Paris-based UNESCO sent a special envoy to negotiate with Taliban
leaders. The UNESCO office in Pakistan said attempts were being made to set
up meetings with Taliban leaders.
"Words fail me to describe adequately my feelings of consternation and
powerlessness as I see the reports of the irreversible damage that is being
done to Afghanistan's exceptional cultural heritage," Koichiro
Matsuura, director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization, said Friday.
"The Japanese government is deeply concerned," said Kazuhiko
Koshikawa, spokesman for Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Japan, where most
people consider themselves followers of both Buddhism and the native Shinto
religion. "Those statues are assets to all human beings."
In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi condemned
the decision. "Unfortunately, the Taliban's destruction of the
statues has cast doubt on the comprehensive views offered by Islamic
ideology in the world," he said, according to the official Islamic
Republic News Agency (IRNA). "Clearly, the world's Muslims pin the blame on
the rigid-minded Taliban."
In Egypt, the chief Muslim cleric, Grand Mufti Nasr Farid Wasel, told the
London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat that keeping the statues isn't forbidden
by Islam. In comments published Friday, he said such statues, like Egypt's Pharaonic
monuments, bolster the economies of Islamic countries through tourism.
Ancient statues are "just a recording of history and don't have any
negative impact on Muslims' beliefs," he was quoted as saying.
GIANT BUDDHAS OF BAMIYAN
Central Afghanistan thrived in the days of the Silk Road as part of
the Iranian Province of Ariana, until 19th century (separated by British)
. Camel caravans criss-crossed the region as they traded between the
Mainland Iran, Roman Empire, China and India. And as they journeyed through
the Hindu Kush mountains they came upon Bamiyan - one of the wonders of the
ancient world. This heart of the now-forgotten Kingdom had been
glorified by two colossal Buddha statues. They were carved into a cliff in
the mountains that tower over the valley of Bamiyan.
One of the statues stands as high as a 10-storey building and has been
described as the most remarkable representation of the Buddha anywhere in
the world. These vast statues were painted in gold and other colours, and
they were decked in dazzling ornaments. All around there was a synthesis of
Greek, Persian and Central and South Asian art. There were countless rich
frescoes. On one cave wall for example there were images of Buddhas in
maroon robes strolling in fields of flowers. In another place milk-white
horses drew the Sun God's golden chariot through a dark blue sky.
There were 10 monasteries built into the cliff, there were yellow-robed
monks, there were pilgrims, festivals, fluttering penants and silken
of plunderers erase a cultural history
Archaeologists wonder where Kabul museum's artefacts have wound up, if they
still exist, writes Luke Harding in the Afghan capital. There is not much left
to see inside Kabul museum these days, even if you manage to get inside the
normally locked front door. There is a giant Islamic bowl, a limestone
inscription written in Greek, and a rather fetching statue in the lobby of King
Kanishka, who ruled Afghanistan in the 2nd century AD.
Kanishka's head and torso were lopped off long ago. But his pantaloons and
enormous royal feet have survived, improbably, down the centuries. Almost
everything else from the collection has gone: the ivory panels of frolicking
half-naked courtesans, the recumbent Buddhas, and the Greek coins. Not only did
Afghanistan's civil war claim 1.5 million lives, it also swallowed up the
country's history. The question now preoccupying archaeologists, four years
after the Taliban swept into Kabul, is where the national museum's artefact are
The answer is a compelling tale of smuggling, intrigue, venality and
international art fraud. It reflected Afghanistan's rich history as the part of
Hushano-Iranian Empire, and its strategic position on the Silk Road between
China through mainland Iran and Rome. To their credit, the Soviet troops
who invaded Kabul in 1979 took nothing away, even repainting some of the
exhibition rooms. But in 1992, three years after they left, the museum found
itself on the front line, as rival Afghan Mujahideen factions fought for control
of the city.
The museum repeatedly changed hands among different groups, who plundered as
they went. By the time the museum staff managed to get access to the building in
late 1994, the collection had disappeared. Some of it had been destroyed. But
most of it, it later emerged, had been looted in the early days of the fighting.
A series of vans had rolled up at night outside the museum's side door. The
two-tone Buddhist relief, for example, were lifted off their iron hooks, piled
in the back, and hidden under a series of mattresses. They were then driven
across the Pakistan border, via the Khyber Pass, to the frontier town of
Peshawar, which is the centre of the illegal trade in Afghan antiquities. From
there they were sold in Peshawar's many antique bazaars. The buyers included
wealthy Japanese collectors, Afghan warlords and Pakistan's Home Minister.
With the arrival of the Taliban, whose practices include the amputation of
limbs of thieves in Kabul's football stadium, the looting stopped. The museum
staff returned. In between selling potatoes in Kabul's markets to make ends
meet, they began to compile a list of the few fragments that had survived.
"It is really very sad," says Omara Khan Masoodi, the deputy
director. "But there was nothing we could do. It was unpreventable."
The upper storeys took a direct hit from a rocket in May 1993 and the museum's
facade was perforated by shellfire. The lion sculpture outside the entrance lost
its head. "Not only has our history been destroyed, but our society and
culture as well," Masoodi says. The exhibits, it seemed, had gone for good.
But two years ago a London antiques dealer based in Bond Street received a
mysterious phone call. A Pakistani businessman wanted to know if he was
interested in buying some "newly excavated" figures from Afghanistan.
The dealer, who does not want to be named, had a look at photos of the objects.
"I recognised them immediately as some of the Begram ivories," he
says. The ivories were the museum's star exhibits - a series of exquisite Indian
panels nearly 2,000 years old, dug up by French archaeologists in the 1930s from
the capital of what was once King Kanishka's flourishing empire. The dealer
bought the pieces. Then he donated them to a Paris museum specialising in Asian
art, the Guimet. But the best ivories were still missing. As photos of the
vanished exhibits began to circulate among museums around the world, attention
was shifting away from Peshawar to other cities in Pakistan. In Quetta, close to
the Afghan border, rumours began circulating that a cultivated Afghan leader now
living in exile, Pir Ahmed Gailani, had accumulated his own trove of Buddhist
antiquities. An elderly archaeology professor, allowed to look round his living
room, hinted that some of the missing treasures were now in Gailani's hands. The
professor refused to elaborate.
Like Peshawar, Quetta is a classic Pakistani smuggling town, controlled by
fiercely tribal Pathans (one of whom was arrested last week after trying to sell
a 2,600-year-old Persian mummy on the black market). Drugs also travel through
Quetta to the Makran, Pakistan's lawless southern coast, from where they are
whisked away by boat. The trail also led to the ousted government of Benazir
Bhutto, who lost power in 1996 and is now in self-imposed exile in London. Ms
Bhutto's minister for the interior, Nasirullah Khan Babar, has admitted buying
one of the Begram ivories for $US100,000 ($180,000). He defends the purchase,
claiming that the sculpture is merely "in safe keeping" until peace
returns to Afghanistan.
Other sources, however, suggest he has many other things hidden in his
basement. They also allege he may have been involved in a plot to sell the
ivories back to Afghanistan. Over in Tokyo, meanwhile, a wealthy private
collector is said to have bought several reliefs belonging to the museum from
the Gandharan school, a Greek-influenced Buddhist dynasty. "There are a lot
of Japanese buyers. The prices are completely unreasonable. They go up to $US1
million for a Buddhist schist [panel]," says Robert Kluyver of the Society
for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage. Back in Kabul, western
scholars have been trying to persuade the Taliban to solve another mystery. In
1989, Afghanistan's president Najibullah had moved 20 tin trunks, possibly
containing the museum's celebrated Bactrian treasures, out of the building for
safekeeping. Some went into the vaults of the presidential palace. The trunks
fared better than he did. When the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996, they
hanged and castrated Najibullah. But the trunks survived. The Taliban, however,
now refuses to open them. No-one is sure whether the 1st-century relics, which
include 20,000 gold objects, are still there. More trunks are sitting in the
Taliban's ministry of information and culture. "We were told this summer
that the seals are intact. But nobody wants the responsibility of opening
them," says a foreign expert, who is trying to retrieve the museum's
Part of the problem is the Taliban's hostile attitude towards Afghanistan's
non-Islamic heritage mainly Ancient Iran. As a movement, it does not
accept the portrayal of any living form, whether human or animal. Two years ago
the Taliban seized from a rival faction the remote Bamiyan valley, home to two
colossal Buddha statues carved into a sandstone cliff-face in the 2nd century
AD. A Taliban commander then blew up the head of the smaller Buddha with
explosives, and fired rockets at the groin and dress of the larger Buddha. The
attack damaged frescos that had withstood an assault from Genghis Khan. The
commander later returned to dump two burning tyres on the larger Buddha's lip.
Hardline elements within the Taliban are equally opposed to Kabul museum showing
Buddhist sculptures. In August the museum was symbolically reopened for three
days. Afterwards, everything was packed away again. Merely to get inside
requires Taliban permission. There are signs, though, that this attitude may be
softening. Three months ago Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban's secretive
leader, issued a decree saying the Bamiyan statues should be protected not
destroyed. He also released another edict forbidding illegal archaeological
excavation, a practice rife during Afghanistan's chaotic war years when Peshawar
antiques dealers would dispatch gangs to dig among the ruins. In the face of
continuing diplomatic isolation, the Taliban has recently decided to try to
persuade foreign tourists to come back to Afghanistan. "We would like
international visitors to see our war-torn country," said Abdul Rahman
Hotaki, the Taliban's deputy culture minister, last month. The Taliban realises
the tourists will return only if there is something left to see, not least in
the national museum. Elsewhere in the country, restoration work is being carried
out on Afghanistan's crumbling attractions. Over in Herat, an ancient city of
learning and culture close to the Iranian border, efforts are being made to stop
the remaining five giant minarets of a medieval mosque from toppling over. The
15th-century Musallah complex was one of the wonders of the age, and was
described by Byron as "the most beautiful example of colour in architecture
Most of the lapis lazuli tiles have fallen off. Rockets have punched holes in
several of the towers. But there are still patches of the dazzling blue of
Byron's vision. It is the British, however, who are the true villains here.
Fearing a Russian invasion, they demolished most of the old mosque buildings in