The Taliban’s Willingness to Destroy Rather Than Construct: Reflecting on the 22nd Anniversary of the Destruction of the Buddha Statues

Under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the Taliban destroyed two large Buddha sculptures in Bamiyan exactly 22 years ago. These two cultural heritages, along with other historical works, have been left to deteriorate, leaving only holes behind. The Taliban have been labelled the “Cultural Killers of the Century” for destroying Salsal and Shahnama’s statues in Bamiyan province; they are no longer committed to preserving Afghanistan’s historical sites due to the former governments’ lack of effort to restore these historic places over the past two decades. As the 22nd anniversary of the destruction of Buddha statues approaches, several scholars in Bamiyan have expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of historical sites. Archaeologists have attributed the destruction of non-Islamic cultural assets in the country, including Buddha statues, to ideological motivations and a desire for superiority.

During a discussion with Hasht-e-Subh, one of the individuals involved in the demolition of Buddha stated that the Taliban had compelled him to transport bomb components into particular sections of the Buddha statue on multiple occasions over a period of fifteen days. He further mentioned that he and his colleagues were unaware of the Taliban’s motives for ordering them to move these items into certain areas of Salsal’s statue until the day of the destruction of the Buddha statues.

Mohammad, a sixty-year-old resident of Bamiyan, informed Hasht-e-Subh that he had seen the Taliban demolish the Buddha statues twenty-two years ago. He had also been involved in the destruction of the Salsal and Shahmama statues, which date back to prehistory. Furthermore, Mohammad stated that the local Taliban leaders in Bamiyan had delegated the task of destroying the large Salsal statue to their members after Mullah Mohammad Omar had issued a command to demolish the Buddha statues in Bamiyan province.

The Taliban abducted more than 50 civilians, as well as the majority of the prisoners and captives, on a daily basis in order to demolish the Buddha statue. The Taliban experts instructed us to excavate a spot and affix explosives to the holes. Consequently, when we arrived at the Buddha, the Taliban forcibly tied a rope around our waists and had us descend onto its shoulders and body from the corridor above the statues. We spent approximately 15 days working on this plan, Mohammad revealed.

Mohammad regretfully noted that he and his companions were filled with remorse after they heard a loud explosion coming from behind the statue of Salsal. He stated that the force of the blast caused him to fall to the ground, and upon further investigation, he discovered that the clay-made statue had exploded. Mohammad further added that there were several Arab and Pakistani terrorists who were fighting alongside the Taliban present at the scene, and they shouted “Allahu Akbar” as the 53-meter Salsal statue was destroyed. Mohammad noted that it took around two weeks to demolish the statue due to its strength. The Buddha statues are located in the Kakrak Valley, in the east of the Bamiyan province. Before capturing the civilians, the Taliban members allegedly attempted to capture Mohammad and his colleagues.

Destruction of Un-Islamic Historical Sites in Afghanistan

The destruction of the large statues of Salsal and Shahmama in Bamiyan by the Taliban has been widely discussed among the former republic government officials, who referred to this incident as “the greatest crime and cultural massacre of the century.” Some archaeologists have suggested that the destruction of nonIslamic historical artifacts has been a long-term process driven by ideological and superior motivations.

Dr. Laiq Ahmadi, a university professor and archeology researcher, informed Hash-e-Subh that several former rulers of Afghanistan, including Aurangzeb, Amir Abdul Rahman Khan, and Amir Habibullah Khan, had the intention of removing historical monuments, as well as non-Islamic art and culture, from Afghanistan. Dr. Ahmadi stated that this was a tactic of cultural simulation, as these rulers desired to create a kingdom that was entirely Islamic by eliminating non-Islamic cultural artifacts.

Mr. Ahmadi discussed Amir Abdul Rahman Khan’s attack on Kafiristan in 1888, in which Abdul Rahman destroyed all of the country’s historical, cultural, and artistic monuments and changed Kafiristan into “Nooristan”, one of the provinces in Afghanistan. He noted that this practice continued up until 2001, when the Taliban employed the same strategy to demolish the enormous Buddha statues in Bamiyan province. Dr. Ahmadi further stated that the Taliban were unable to destroy the Buddha statues using cannons, tanks, rockets, mortars, and other heavy weapons until they bribed locals to place explosives in the Salsal and Shahmama statues.

Mr. Ahmadi stated that the Taliban had regained political control in Afghanistan after 22 years, and in addition to continuing their destruction of non-Islamic historical sites, they were now altering the curriculum to reflect their ideology.

Historical Sites in Bamiyan: A Current Overview

As the 22nd anniversary of the Taliban’s destruction of Buddha statues approaches, cultural experts in Bamiyan have expressed their concerns about the current state of historical sites in the province. These experts have warned that natural disasters and human terrorism have put Bamiyan’s historical monuments at risk of being destroyed.

Farhad, a tourist guide in Bamiyan who goes by a pseudonym, informed Hasht-e-Subh that the Taliban’s return to power has put Bamiyan’s historical places in danger. He stated that there is no organization to restore the preservation of these sites, as illegal construction projects have begun in Bamiyan under various pretexts.

An anonymous resident of Bamiyan province informed Hasht-e-Subh that the Taliban have not implemented any plans to safeguard the province’s historical legacy, and that they are engaging in numerous illicit excavations and construction projects in the protected areas. The resident went on to say, “Mullah Abdullah Sarhadi, the Taliban governor in Bamiyan, is illegally exploring the area behind the Salsal statue, as is Mawlawi Saif al-Rahman Mohammad, the Taliban head of information and culture, who is attempting to reconstruct the province’s old market, which is located 100 meters from the Salsal statue that was destroyed.”

Twenty-two years ago, the Taliban destroyed Buddha statues and all other statues and historical places in Bamiyan during their first rule. In response, UNESCO has added five additional historical monuments, including the historical cities of Gholghola and Dhahak, Qali Qami, Qol Akram, and Gawhargin caves, to its list of endangered cultural heritages. Unfortunately, there have been few effective efforts to protect Bamiyan province’s cultural legacies, and the risk of eradicating the incredible historical consequences of Bamiyan is further increased by random constructions, biased expeditions, and natural disasters.