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Explosions Tear at Afghan Buddha Statues

The Taliban has resumed its demolition of the world's tallest Buddha statue and another nearby statue in central Afghanistan's Bamiyan valley. A spokesman for the Taliban opposition told Reuters news agency that the two statues had been dynamited and "are completely gone." There has been no independent confirmation of this report.

Noorulah Zadran, a former spokesperson for the Taliban, said in an interview with National Geographic Today that the group is justified in its destruction of the country's Buddhist statues.

The world's tallest Buddha statue, shown in this 1968 National Geographic photograph, is slated for destruction by the Taliban.
Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie/NGS

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The Taliban are being true to "a promise they have made when they came on the scene," said Zadran. "They said they were about to implement a pure Islamic government." The Taliban control more than 90 percent of Afghanistan and have said they plan to destroy all Buddhist statues, including the two large Bamiyan statues.

A Suffering Country

International organizations have expressed outrage over the plans and are focusing their attention on the Taliban's threat to the Bamiyan statues constructed at least 1,500 years ago. The tallest statue stands 175 feet (53 meters) tall and is said to be the highest in the world.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a statement last week condemning the Taliban's move and calling on Afghans to "protect the cultural and historic relics and monuments of Afghanistan which are part of the common heritage of mankind."

"Destroying any relic, any monument, any statue, will only prolong the climate of conflict," Annan said in the statement. "After 22 years of war, destruction and drought, there can only be one priority for the government: to rebuild the country, to renew the fabric of society, and to relieve the immense suffering and deprivation of the people of Afghanistan."

This deprivation, stemming from war and drought, should be recognized by international organizations, said Zadran, not the decision to destroy the statues.

"We would like [the] world community also to see our plight," he said. "Day by day [Afghanistan is] getting sanctions from the United Nations and every day babies are dying and no one is coming to our aid."

The world community, concluded Zadran, should "try to understand our way of life, our culture, our religion so this way we can reciprocate."

Saving the Statues

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura called the Taliban's plan to destroy the statues a "move into absurdity."

UNESCO sent an envoy to Afghanistan to urge Taliban authorities to reverse their decision to destroy the country's Buddhist statues.

According to the UN, New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art contacted Annan last week with an offer to save the cultural relics.

The museum's director, Philippe de Montebello made an offer to pay for the removal of all moveable sculptures from Afghanistan, a spokesman for Annan told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.

For the latest news on the struggle to save the Afghan statues, watch National Geographic Today at 7 and 10 p.m. tonight.

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