15 March 2001

Bamiyan Buddhas laid to rest

15 March 2001
The Times of India

In Taliban country

Times of India News Service

KABUL: Finally laying to rest any last glimmer of hope about the fate of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the Taliban on Wednesday said that although 100 per cent 'work' has not yet been completed, the statues have more or less been destroyed.

In his first meeting with journalists since the controversial order to destroy the statues was issued, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil said dynamite was being used since artillery fire was not enough. "In some portion, cement and steel rods are there. Though I cannot say exactly, a greater portion of statue is no longer left."

Information Minister Qodratollah Jamal was, however, quoted as saying by the Afghan Islamic Press that "even traces of the statues are not visible now."

Muttawakil said that the edict has been under consideration for six years and pertained to all statues depicting life form. However, he gave an assurance that this would not apply to statues which might be worshipped by Afghan's small Hindu and Sikh communities inside their temples.

"Their statues will not be smashed as they are worshipping them as part of their religious rituals. Hindus and Sikhs can fulfil their religious worshipping without any concern," he added.

Muttawakil parried questions on how the Taliban would react if a country like Spain, where there are no Muslims, were to destroy ancient mosques in Cordoba and Granada. "The Spanish law might not allow such destruction," he said. But what would happen if Spain were to change its laws, he was asked. Muttawakil finally admitted that "the situation will have to be judged then, but obviously we will be unhappy". Shifting ground, he then attacked the international community for focusing only on bad news from Afghanistan. Asked whether the destruction of the statues was good news or bad, he said: "It depends. For them it is bad, for us (it is) good."

Speaking later to The Times of India, Muttawakil said the Indian government should not link its diplomatic policies towards Afghanistan with the statues issue. He said the Taliban had gone out of their way to help India during the Kandahar hijacking. He denied even a commitment to India that the hijackers would be arrested; they were allowed to go because some compromise had to be made. "The plane first landed in India, they should have been arrested there."

He admitted hijacking is a crime but refused to accept the hijackers were criminals. "If they were tried they might have been found guilty because opposing a government is one thing, but killing innocent persons is another." Nevertheless, they had some arguments too, that they are waging jihad. "I am not a Mufti. It is not my job to judge."

On Kashmir, Muttawakil said the Taliban supported the militants fighting there, but only in nominal terms. He denied there were any militant training camps on the Afghan side. However, he acknowledged that there were Arabs and Pakistani "volunteers" who have been fighting alongside the Taliban against the Opposition. Asked about the numbers, he said "the numbers cannot and should not be counted. These are volunteers, they come and go".

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