Former information and culture officials and some cultural figures in Bamiyan have expressed concern about illegal construction on UNESCO-protected sites in the provincial capital.
Ishaq Movahid, the now-former director of information and culture in Bamiyan, told the 8 am newspaper that construction has recently begun in the red areas of the master-cultural plan in Bamiyan. According to him, UNESCO-owned areas have recently been usurped and houses and other illegal constructions have been built there. This includes the areas around the Buddha statues. Mavahid says that all the historical and cultural assets of the province have been damaged. According to him, arbitrary constructions have not been prevented so far.
Local Taliban officials in Bamiyan province say that the municipality has been instructed to halt construction on the UNESCO World Heritage Site and other restricted areas.
An activist from Bamiyan, speaking on condition of anonymity, told 8 am that the red areas of the province’s master plan were in danger of being destructed and that construction had begun in those areas. The cultural activist claimed that concerns had been raised with local Taliban officials about the public being ignorant of the master plan, but no action had been taken so far. According to him, green areas are also being destroyed. Some people in the green areas have cut down trees and opened a car dealership.
However, the former director of Bamiyan Information and Culture emphasized that the previous local administration, in coordination with the central government, foreign organizations and other international partners, had always tried to preserve the province’s cultural image. According to him, all these efforts and protection programs suddenly disappeared with the recent developments.
In the past, arbitrary constructions were prevented in forbidden areas, according to Movahid. Now, however, the usurpation of historical sites and housing in those areas are not prevented. The former director of information and culture also said that those who had not previously been allowed to build houses in restricted areas are now texting him and saying sarcastically, “Mr. Director, we are building a hotel, built a house, laid out a town plan, and we will rebuild the old bazaar.”
In addition, according to an audio file provided to the 8 AM newspaper, a Bamiyan resident who recently built a house in a restricted area taunted the former director of the Bamiyan Information and Culture Department. “I tidied up the houses. You were a little late and our work doubled. Forgiveness. The houses are now fully ready for life.”
Movahid emphasized that if construction is not stopped, the monuments will be demolished, given that the historic sites are now in the hands of the Mafia. He added that in the very first days of the fall of Bamiyan, some historical artifacts and items were stolen by thieves from a warehouse in front of the large statue of the Salsal.
However, the former director of information and culture in the province expressed concern that Bamiyan could be removed from the UNESCO World Heritage List. According to him, the people of Afghanistan have not fulfilled their obligations to the international community to preserve historical and ancient sites.
Movahid said that according to the information he has, some local Taliban officials in Bamiyan are encouraging people to usurp red and green areas and build houses in UNESCO-protected areas. Maulavi Siddiq Ullah Shahin, the Taliban’s police chief for Bamiyan, denied the allegations in an interview with the Daily 8 am.
Meanwhile, the former director of information and culture called on the Taliban not to allow the destruction of Bamiyan historical sites. He emphasized that Bamiyan is the spiritual capital of the nation and should be protected. He also said that in the past few months, illegal excavations have been carried out in some ancient sites, which are still ongoing without any disruption. According to Movahid, in addition to building houses in the red areas, some excavations have been reported by some people to find historical monuments. These include parts of the city of GholGholah, in front of the Buddhas, Chehelston and Surkhqul in the center of Bamiyan.
Maulavi Siddiq Ullah Shahin, the Taliban’s police chief for Bamiyan, acknowledged, however, that some people had initially “constructed” in the red, green, and forbidden areas. However, local Taliban officials tasked the municipal administration with preventing illegal construction.
The Taliban police chief added that all the structures that had been built arbitrarily had been demolished again in recent days by Bamiyan municipal officials.
The capital of Bamiyan province is the only city in the country that, in addition to having an urban master plan, also has a cultural master plan. This cultural master plan was prepared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan in 2007. In addition to the registration of eight important historical monuments of Bamiyan under the title of endangered monuments by UNESCO, parts of the Bamiyan valley, which include ancient and green areas, have been marked for protection in the form of cultural master plan.
According to the plan, no one has the right to build in restricted areas. The government is also obliged to implement this master plan. According to this cultural master plan, Bamiyan Valley is divided into four zones. The first zone includes historical and archaeological sites and is marked in red. The second zone is marked in green. In these two areas, any construction is strictly prohibited. The other two areas are also marked in yellow and orange, with the yellow area being expandable and the orange area forming the red area. In the Red Areas, there is no obstacle for the builders if the historical monuments are not affected.
Cases of construction have previously been reported to the UNESCO, which have been stopped by the local authority following criticism from activists and a warning from UNESCO. Now, however, cultural activists are worried that the continuation of these constructions could lead to the removal of Bamiyan from the World Heritage List.
Earlier, Bamiyan activists called on the government to legally seize the old part of the city center that belongs to the residents and put an end to the scandals once and for all. So far, this has not been done and, though there are still disputes between the people and the government.