7th Century Buddhist shrine destroyed

A seventh-century Buddhist shrine at Tap-e-Sardar, near Ghazni in central Afghanistan, is the latest victim of the Taliban's religious edict that pre-Islamic Afghan culture must be destroyed, according to veteran author Nancy Dupree.

Dupree, a leading figure in the Society for the Preservation of Afghanistan's Cultural Heritage (SPACH), told IRIN on Thursday that two statues at the Tap-e-Sardar shrine had been "trashed" as a result of the fatwa by the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and said the continuing cultural destruction was a great loss for Afghan and world culture.

Holes had been drilled into a statue of a sleeping Buddha and the moulded feet of a second statue had been broken off by representatives of the Taliban's vice and virtue police, she said. The statues were located in small votive chapels that had been built by Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims visiting the main conical shrine.

Although Taliban officials cite religious reasons for destroying the idols, Dupree said that the real motives stemmed from growing political frustration at having been shunned and isolated by the international community.

"The problem is that once you unleash this sort of action, then there is no way of controlling it," she said, adding that it was young, poorly-educated Taliban men that were carrying out the destruction.

"They have just been granted a licence to smash up idols. This is just a big lark for them. Whoever is behind this is trying to make a statement but for what purpose I really don't know," she added.

According to Dupree, the ruling to destroy unIslamic idols had been heavily debated in the Taliban's national council of ministers in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Five hardliners won out and the ruling was presented to Mullah Omar for his approval, she said.

Ironically, the same national council had issued directives pertaining to the preservation of Afghanistan's heritage only a few months ago, she added.

The Taliban had previously issued eight edicts aimed at preserving Afghanistan's cultural heritage. The recent ruling to destroy the statues, based on the advice of religious scholars, was a total reversal of the Taliban's previous position on pre-Islamic culture in Afghanistan, she maintained.

"I don't think you'll find many Afghans who agree with the edict. If you talk to literate and non-literate Afghans, they are aghast as to why this is being done," she said.