Afghanistan strives to rebuild historic sites destroyed by Taliban

By Najibullah

This photo taken June 7, 2015, shows the projected image of a Buddha statue in Bamiyan Province. It would replace one that the Taliban destroyed in 2001. [AFP/Kamran Shafayee]

This photo taken June 7, 2015, shows the projected image of a Buddha statue in Bamiyan Province. It would replace one that the Taliban destroyed in 2001. [AFP/Kamran Shafayee]

KABUL -- The Afghan government is taking serious measures to protect and reconstruct Afghanistan's historical and cultural monuments, including the two ancient Buddha statues of Bamiyan Province.

The Taliban in 2001 demolished the two Buddhas on orders from then-leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban declared them to be idols.

Carved into a cliff in the Bamiyan valley in the 4th and 5th centuries, the two were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world at 35 and 53 metres tall.

Ambitions to rebuild the monuments received a boost at the 13th Bamiyan Expert Working Group Meeting, held December 1-3 in Munich, Germany.

Attendees included Bamiyan Governor Mohammad Tahir Zahir, the Afghan deputy culture minister and other top Afghan officials, as well as representatives of prospective donor countries and 20 international specialists.

Because of that meeting, Zahir said at a December 10 news conference, reconstruction of the smaller Buddha will begin soon, while efforts to preserve the site continue.

A September 2017 symposium on reconstruction and restoration of the site will take place in Tokyo, UNESCO said in a December 13 statement.

Reconstruction era dawns

The Afghan government calls the current period "the era of reconstruction", as efforts are under way to rebuild the country's historic and cultural sites, which suffered great destruction under the Taliban.

Rebuilding the lost Buddhas is a "very important matter", said Safoura Ilkhani, a member of the Afghan lower chamber of parliament, the Wolesi Jirga.

"This reconstruction effort can once again attract the attention of tourists to Bamiyan, which in turn has economic benefits for the country," she told Salaam Times. "It can also initiate social and cultural exchange and can attract the world's attention."

"Since the fall of the Taliban regime [in 2001], the Afghan government has spared no efforts in collecting and protecting the country's historical monuments," said Omara Khan Massoudi, director of the National Museum of Afghanistan.

These efforts include the rehabilitation of museums, collection of more than 10,000 ancient stolen monuments and artefacts from abroad, Afghanistan's involvement in UNESCO conventions, and the creation of databases to record historic and archaeological artefacts and locations, he said.

During the civil war and during the Taliban's reign (1996-2001), Massoudi himself moved more than 20,000 artefacts to safe places.

"During the civil war and especially during the time when the Taliban ruled over the country, most antiquities and museums were destroyed," Massoudi told Salaam Times.

"The Taliban deliberately destroyed sculptures of this museum, claiming that the maintenance and worship of idols were forbidden," he said. "In addition, the destruction of the Buddha statues is a great loss."

Major crime and treason

Under the Taliban's rule, militants attempted to destroy the country's cultural and historical monuments in order to introduce a different Afghanistan to the world, said Ilkhani, the representative from Bamiyan.

"By destroying the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Taliban dealt a devastating economic, social and cultural blow to Afghanistan," she said.

The Taliban committed an act of high treason when they destroyed the Buddha statues of Bamiyan, said Zabihullah, a 25-year-old Kabul University student.

"The Taliban fundamentally opposed the values and beliefs of the people," he told Salaam Times. "By destroying and looting the country's monuments, they tried to label the people of Afghanistan as ignorant."

The Taliban's claims that the statues and other artefacts were idols worshipped religiously are nonsense, said Maryam, 25, a Kabul University student.

"The Taliban displayed their barbarism by destroying the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan, since in addition to their archaeological value, these statues could attract foreign tourists and provide Afghanistan with economic gains," she told Salaam Times.

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As one of the officials in cultural sector of Bamiyan, I hope that the Bamiyan statues will be rebuilt and will be well protected.