From Ruins of Afghan Buddhas, a History Grows





The empty niches that once held Bamiyan’s colossal Buddhas now gape in the rock face — a silent cry at the terrible destruction wrought on this fabled valley and its 1,500-year-old treasures, once the largest standing Buddha statues in the world.

It was in March 2001, when the Taliban and their sponsors in Al Qaeda were at the zenith of their power in Afghanistan, that militiamen, acting on an edict to take down the “gods of the infidels,” laid explosives at the base and the shoulders of the two Buddhas and blew them to pieces. To the outraged outside world, the act encapsulated the horrors of the Islamic fundamentalist government. Even Genghis Khan, who laid waste to this valley’s towns and population in the 13th century, had left the Buddhas standing.

Five years after the Taliban were ousted from power, Bamiyan’s Buddhist relics are once again the focus of debate: Is it possible to restore the great Buddhas? And, if so, can the extraordinary investment that would be required be justified in a country crippled by poverty and a continued Taliban insurgency in the south and that is, after all, overwhelmingly Muslim?


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