The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 18, 2001
Lead Article

Outrage at Bamiyan

It is difficult to resist the apprehension that the Taliban madness over the Bamiyan statues is going to have its impact in Kashmir sooner or later, says T.V. Rajeswar.

THE destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha and other priceless Buddhist statues, carvings, icons etc., throughout Afghanistan is probably over by now.The chief of the ruling Taliban, Mulla Mohammad Omar, is unmoved by the appeal of several countries including Pakistan and Egypt and the Organisation of Islamic Countries. The unrepentant Mulla, on the other hand, asked the Muslims world over to support his destruction order and "unite behind his vision of Islam". He also exhorted the Muslims of the world not to support the non-believers since "the infidels wanted to rob Islam of its spirit".


During his campaign of destruction and loot, at the turn of the second millennium, Mahmud Ghazni wrought much destruction and desecration of idols and icons. He vandalised many famous Hindu temples in North India, including the famous Somnath temple in 1025 AD. But he did not desecrate the Bamiyan Buddha which was about seven centuries old by then and towered over the Bamiyan valley which was not very far from Ghazni.

Afghanistan was part of Greater India from the dawn of history. After the Greek conqueror Alexanderís invasion of India in 326 BC and retreat, his deputy Seleucus was defeated and the Mauryan Empire arose which stretched as far as the Hindukush region. Ashoka in the third century BC and Kanishka in the first century BC, continued to hold sway in the region. It was towards the end of the first century BC that Buddhism split into two schools, Mahayana and Hinayana, and Buddha who was an agnostic and against deification was turned into a deity. The Greek and Indian traditions yielded the Gandhara School Of Art, resulting in beautiful statues of Buddha and Boddhisatvas all over the Buddhist world, extending from the Hindukush to Indo-China. The Bamiyan Buddha was a part of this heritage. Gandhari in the epic Mahabharata is believed to have come from this region.

A Buddhist monk beats an effigy of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar with a stick in MumbaiAfghanistan was part of the Mughal empire till its decline after Aurangzeb. During the empire-building days of the British, Afghanistan became the cockpit of rivalry between the Russian empire and the British. The British in India believed that their strategic interests extended up to the Hindukush in order to ward off Russian intrusion. This led to the kings of Afghanistan becoming loyal satraps of the British.

After Independence and the Partition, resulting in the emergence of Pakistan, India continued to maintain an excellent rapport with the rulers of Afghanistan. The most shining example of this was the visit of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in June 1969. On her arrival at Kabul, she was received by King Zahir Shah. A cultural troupe consisting of Begum Akhtar, Kathak dancer Damyanti Joshi and some others had accompanied the PM. Begum Akhtarís music performance in the Chalistoon Palace (Palace of Forty Pillars), where Indira Gandhi was staying, enraptured the select audience, including the members of the royal family. Indira Gandhi also laid the foundation stone for a hospital at Kabul which was later run by a team of Indian doctors. During her stay in Afghanistan, Indira Gandhi visited the Panchsheer Valley across the Salang Pass on the highway leading to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, which was then part of Russia. Indira Gandhi also flew to Bamiyan and beheld the great Buddhist sculpture there. Those were the balmy days and Kabulís crowded bazaars were overflowing with dry fruits and imported items. Indian merchants who were living there for generations were doing roaring business. All this changed later with coups and counter coups and the fleeing of King Zahir Shah whose rule had been a stabilising influence for many years.

The Russian invasion in 1979, started all the terrible problems which are afflicting Afghanistan even today. The Americans were determined to do a Vietnam on the Russians and Pakistan became the staging post and a trusted ally for pumping in arms and funds for the Afghan freedom fighters. Fundamentalism crept in with the backing of Saudi Arabia, and after he came to power in Pakistan, General Zia promoted fundamentalism systematically. It was Zia again, who sowed the seeds of a large-scale armed insurgency in the Kashmir valley. The Taliban, presently ruling most parts of Afghanistan is the creation of Pakistan, USA and Saudi Arabia. All these three countries should take responsibility for all the excesses which have characterised the present Taliban rule. The rise of Osama bin Laden is also one such outcome and he remains a bugbear and one of the most hunted by Americans.

After Mulla Omar gave his orders for the destruction of Buddhist idols throughout Afghanistan, Prime Minister Vajpayee wrote to several nations including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Unfortunately and strangely enough there was hardly any response from any of the world leaders to his letter. Foreign Minister Jaswant Singhís statement in the Parliament that India would be happy to take the several Buddhist statues from Afghanistan and bring them to India also failed to elicit any response. On the other hand, a similar offer by Iran was given a reply by Omar saying that Islam believed in destroying statues and not in selling them. It is distressing to see that neither President George Bush nor Tony Blair, nor for that matter Putin, condemned it, much less respond to Vajpayeeís appeal. The ASEAN nations, consisting of several Buddhist countries, did not issue a joint appeal either.

The reaction among the Sangh Parivar leaders was, however, on expected lines. Prof Samuel P. Huntington, the author of a much debated thesis, The Clash of Civilisations? speaks of "the end of the Nehru legacy and the Hinduisation of India" as one of the contributing factors for the growth of fundamentalism in India. As a leading English daily commented, "Where were these righteous guardians of Indian heritage when the Babri Masjid was destroyed? If the statues in Bamiyan are our heritage, so is the Babri Masjid". Is it possible that the muted reaction of the world leaders to the Prime Ministerís appeal was because of the Hindu fundamentalist tag which the NDAís main constituent BJP has come to acquire?

It is difficult to resist the apprehension that the Taliban madness over the Bamiyan statues is going to have its impact in Kashmir sooner or later. A sizeable number of Afghan Taliban constitute the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohaamed and the Hizbul Mujahideen who are the dominant players in the almost daily attacks in Kashmir. The extended ceasefire has made no difference to them. They have warned the policemen in Jammu and Kashmir to quit their jobs if they want to be alive. This threat has been followed by a series of attacks on policemen, resulting in a large number of casualties. The attacks on armed forces are becoming more and more brazen and the ambush on the armed convoy in the outskirts of Anantnag is very foreboding as it occurred in the town limits which means it could not have occurred without the connivance of the people around.

Mulla Mohhammad Omar appealed to the world Muslims on March 5, "not to harmonise their voices with those of non-believers as the infidels want to rob Islam of its spirit". The implications of this statement are far reaching. With the Pundits mostly driven out of Kashmir Valley, the Sikhs are now being targeted. The Hurriyat leader Geelani claims that the problem of Kashmir is one of religion and not of politics. Even though the other Hurriyat leaders may not agree with him, Geelani is believed to be more influential and pro-Pakistan. Taking into account all these factors, what is the future of Kashmiriyat? The claim that the people of the Valley believe in Kashmiriyat, having been fed on Kashmirís own Sufi saints and moderate Islamists over the centuries is somewhat tenuous. Fundamentalism is sweeping Pakistan and its influence has also spread to the Pakistan army. In this dangerous emerging scenario what is the future of important Hindu landmarks in the Kashmir Valley? Would Mulla Omarís anti-infidel and anti-idolatry campaign result in the militants targeting well-known and highly respected landmarks like the Shankaracharya Hill, the Khir Bhawani Temple, the Amarnath Cave etc? Nothing is sacred to them and they do not believe in heritage and the word Kashmiriyat is anathema to them.

What are the lessons which India should draw from the Bamiyan outrage? Does India have the moral and physical courage and strength to stay on in Kashmir and not to get demoralised by the constant deadly attacks against the armed forces, the police and the civilians?

Taliban flouts its own commitment...
By A. Balu

THE Taliban regime may have compounded its heinous offence by reneging on its own commitment to preserve all cultural heritage in the country.

According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites and the International Council of Museums, the Taliban commitment was made in 1999. Adding to the "dishonour" of breaking a commitment to preserve the ancient and diverse heritage of Afghanistan as part of the whole mankind, "such an act of destruction would be a total cultural catastrophe. It would remain written in the pages of history, next to the most infamous acts of barbarity."

Two Afghan militia fighters rest near the 53-metre-high statue of Buddha in BamiyanNon-government organisations around the world have joined in condemning the action of the Taliban leadership as an assault on the cultural and historic achievements of humanity.

The Society for the Preservation of Afghanistanís cultural heritage has described the demolition of the Buddha statues as "absolutely sickening."

Says Nancy Dupree of the Society: "You cannot enter the Bamiyan valley without being in awe of the creative dynamism of these figures. They belong to the world. These old buildings are Afghanistanís identity, and when you lose your identity you have lost your soul."

The Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, described in the media as a "self-styled emir of all he surveys," is quoted as saying "these idols have been gods of the infidels, who worship them. The real god is only Allah ó all other false gods should be removed. Only the Allah the Almighty deserves to be worshipped, not anyone else, or anything else."

"They are trying to destroy Afghanistanís memory," says Hamid Karzar, a former deputy foreign minister of the ousted government of Rabbani. Exiled Afghan writer Latif Pedram laments that Taliban is destroying the roots of the country.

In contrast to Iranís strong reaction to the destruction of the Buddha statues, Pakistan has confined itself to appealing to the Taliban regime to give serious consideration to the international appeal without disapproving the act of vandalism.

The most telling comment has come from the UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell: "It is as if the Indian government has decided to destroy the Taj Mahal." Vendrell, who has in recent weeks tried to persuade the Taliban regime to accept the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, as a mediator to the Afghan conflict, has warned that the latest Taliban action is going to have negative implications for Talibanís image around the world.

Even more pessimistic assessment was revealed in the comment of UN emergency relief coordinator K. Oshima to reporters in Islamabad; "A real tragedy is unfolding in front of us." The continuing conflict in Afghanistan had led to a "massive human suffering", he had said after a three-day visit to that country last month.

Oshima has recommended "exceptional actions" from the international community, neighbouring states and the parties to the conflict, but the latest defiant act of the Taliban could further isolate Afghanistan from the rest of the world, with little prospect of a bleeding Afghanistan seeing light at the end of the tunnel.


Iconoclasm: An article of faith?
By K.N. Pandita

THE Indian Parliament has decried the demolition process of the world famous statues in Afghanistan. India is a secular state and Parliament has broken the secular tradition by passing a resolution condemning an act of the upholders of a particular faith. Has Parliament of a secular state a right to condemn an act that is enjoined upon the faithful as their religious duty? In demolishing the statue, the puritanical Taliban have, as ardent upholders of a faith they profess, performed a duty that is among the essential religious fundamentals or obligations viz. demolition of idols, idol houses and destruction of idolatry. As long as such symbols remain, the land is daruíl-barb, meaning the land of conflict. Once the symbols and relics of a pre-Islamic or non-Islamic faith are destroyed, it is the land of peace or daruíl-amn or daruíl -salam. Establishing the land of peace is the cherished goal of every faithful Muslim wherever he is. As such, India, or for that matter any other country, has no right to question why the strict adherents of a particular faith carry out the commandments of their religion.

A file photo of the Buddha statue at BamiyanBut is it the first time that the faithful have embarked on a mission of establishing the daruíl-amn? Indian Parliament should have thought over the question. When the Arab commander conquered Northern Egypt in about 654 AD, he came across a fabulously rich library in Alexandria comprising mostly the manuscripts of the writings of great Greek philosophers and intellectuals. Saíd, the commander, sent a message to Caliph Omar seeking instructions on what to do with that treasure. Omar is reported to have said, "Qurían is the holy book sent down by God for us. It contains all the knowledge on the earth and in the heaven. If the books in the library in Alexandria contain anything more than what our holy book contains, that is trash. And if those contain less, we need them not at all." For six months, the libraryís books heated the baths (hammams) of Egypt, writes late Dr Zabihullah Safa in The History of Rational Sciences in Islamic Civilization.

After their victories in the battles of Qadisiyyeh and Nehavand in 652 AD resulting in the liquidation of the Sasanian empire, the first thing the Arab conquerors undertook to do was the wholesale destruction of the free-temples (atashkadesh) of the Zoroastrians faith, the faith of the Iranians of those days. Tarikh-I-Yamini, the history of Mahmud of Ghazna, and many other Persian chronicles have recorded the story of Mahmudís iconoclasm, including the destruction of the Somnath temple. Farrukhi, the panegyrist of the House of Mahmud, has a powerful qasida eulogizing his patron ó the Amiruíl-Momineen ó for his iconoclastic achievements in India. A secular state like India may need to amend the constitutional provision that allows Parliament to question the performance of a religious duty by the followers of that religion. It must not politicise principles. It did not pass any condemnation resolution when the faithful extirpated three hundred thousand Kashmirs not belonging to the Muslim faith from their homeland at gunpoint in 1990. But it did react when the faithful are axing down the Buddhas at Bamiyan. The question is when the Indian Parliament was not perturbed by the extirpation of living human mass of its own citizens in Kashmir, why does it become nervous if a few hundred tons of granite are crushed at Bamiyan by the Muslim puritans in observance of their religious commandment with weaponry invented by the western kafirs? Isnít it a crude way of playing the communal card?