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Sunday, February 13, 2011

A new Bamiyan

by Nancy Hatch Dupree and Chris Sands


Nearly a decade after Afghanistan and the world recoiled in shock at the Taliban regime’s destruction of two giant Buddhist statues, the country is again on the brink of a cultural disaster. Now, however, it is not Islamic militants who pose the threat, nor is it a government pushed into a corner after years of isolation by the West. Today the danger comes from a source few could have seen coming back then: unchecked capitalism.

Often encouraged by the United States, domestic and international companies are beginning to carve up Afghanistan in search of the vast mineral resources that lie beneath its surface. Already, there are signs that this unprecedented pursuit of wealth could do more damage to the cultural history of the country than war ever has. It must be regulated before it is too late.

Nowhere is the sheer scale of the potential catastrophe more apparent than in Logar, a province bordering Kabul. There, at Mes Aynak, lies an ancient Buddhist monastery that predates the arrival of Islam in Afghanistan. The site possibly surpasses in splendour the famous relics destroyed by the Taliban in March, 2001, making it an almost perfect snapshot of an ancient society and era we still know far too little about. It is an almost perfect snapshot of an ancient society and era we still know far too little about. There are hallways, coins, ornately decorated rooms, domed shrines and dozens of statues of Buddha; but the preservation of many of the artifacts is in jeopardy.

In 2007, the state-owned Chinese company China Metallurgical Group Corporation won a $3.5 billion contract to develop a massive unexploited copper reserve in the same area. Archeologists now have only three years to finish the excavation work, putting the site at severe risk.

When the Taliban regime blew up the two Buddhas in the central province of Bamiyan, a global outcry resulted. The UN condemned the destruction and international Islamic scholars were vocal in their criticism. Today, a decade and another war later, the world is silent.

The threat to the monastery comes just months after the US announced with fanfare that it had discovered approximately $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan. “There is stunning potential here”, Gen David Petraeus, the commander of Nato forces in the country, told The New York Times. Competition for a number of contracts has already been strong, with the latest awarded to an Afghan company to spend up to $50 million on a gold mine in the northern province of Baghlan. With support from private British, American, Turkish and Indonesian investors, production is due to start by 2013. Meanwhile, bidding for a 1.8 billion ton iron ore deposit in Hajigak, Bamiyan, has attracted interest from firms in India, Australia, Iran and Canada, amongst others.

It is beyond doubt that reconstruction and economic development are needed in what is one of the poorest countries on earth. The prospect of thousands more jobs becoming available in the years ahead should be welcomed, so should the long-term self-sustainability and pride a thriving mining industry could help engender. However, a nation’s integrity can only be assured when its members hold fast to cherished values. The pursuit of wealth without dignity, respect for the past and the environment will ultimately set Afghanistan back, not help it progress.

A creeping money culture has taken root here and all the signs are that it is getting worse. More and more people are thinking in terms of earning a quick profit, with no thought of what it will do to their heritage or how it will impact on future generations. The US and its allies have, intentionally or not, helped set this worrying trend.

High value mining contracts should, and must, include clauses stipulating the preservation of historic sites found during development. Without such basic conditions they will leave an indelible scar on Afghan history.

For over thirty years Afghanistan’s culture has just about managed to survive in the face of horrific chaos and bloodshed, even though its museums and archeological sites have been looted and plundered, its paintings desecrated and its statues destroyed. Now comes the biggest threat of all.

Source: http://mondediplo.com/blogs/a-new-bamiyan

3 comments:

  1. This discussion was done on Facebook.... I am posting it here because it is more relevent here...

    Abbas: By the way, this article is not about Hazaras. "The new Bamiyan" of this report is "Logar". And the writers, not professional archeologists, declare that the site of relics in Logar "possibly surpasses in splendour the famous relics destroy...ed by the Taliban in March, 2001, making it an almost perfect snapshot of an ancient society and era we still know far too little about."
    At the cost of underestimating the Buddhas of Bamyan in splendour, this is a usual anti-Chinese-investment propaganda in the guise of threat to ancient relics and stuff. The title attracts Hazaras, and you have not noticed what is said inside.
    The Chinese investment at that site in Logar brought the attention to those relics and Chinese company has promised to dig them out and safeguard it, with their own financial assistance. Most such reports of concerns are propaganda.
    On the other hand, after 10 years, still the Buddhas of Bamyan remain unbuilt and without any plans of reconstruction with no interest from the UN or US particularly. The criticism regarding the site operated by Chinese company is common nowadays, but nobody bothers to talk about what the UN and international community led by the US in Afghanistan has done for Bamyan or the Buddhas of Bamyan.

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  2. Abbas Daiyar the latest news on situation of relics in Bamyan is here.
    آبدات تاریخی ولایت بامیان درحالت نابود شدن است
    http://www.hazarapeople.com/fa/?p=4914

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  3. Khudadad Azara Abbas Birar@ Thanks for bringing the issue. I am not in agreement with whole content of the article either...however; I appreciate two things that come out of this article...1. Any mining company should not have free hands...in exploiting t...he area just by consent of federal government...the local people should have their says and laws should empower the local people to exercise their rights...otherwise the mineral resource of people will turn into evil as it is happening in Balochistan, Nigeria and Congo....

    Second thing...it ask for attention of learned and aware individuals like you to put the facts in front of people and make people to be engaged in what are happening in their backyards....... If people are involved in all processes in beginning...it will benefit all (people, country and companies who invest) and save the future conflicts........ I know that area need investments very badly...but desperate decisions and silence in beginning will bring chaos in area... You know better than me that area is very sensitive in terms of demography.... Without involvement of local people...there is big danger of demographic loss along of historical loss...........

    Abbas Birar@ I agree with you that the role of US and UN remained very negative regarding development in Hazarajat.... Because Hazaras are peaceful and cooperating with international community wholeheartedly...so international community takes the cooperation of Hazaras as for granted...... I appreciate the active, positive and peaceful role of youths in raising their voices but it is not as loud as it should be................

    Abbas Birar@ World around us is changing rapidly and power of people is undeniable but people needs voices that are able to speak on their behalf and make it heard...........

    I appreciate yours and hope you will continue to point out mistakes of international community, Afghan Government, leadership of Hazaras by your analysis................

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