Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras and Hazarajat...The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they are facing on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness and disinformation...... To further awareness against violence, disinformation and discrimination, we have launched a sister Blog for youths and youths are encouraged to share their stories and opinions; Young Pens

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Is Democracy Always for the Better? The Forgotten Plight of Afghanistan’s Hazara Minority

With the possibility of a democratic pandemic sweeping the Middle East and South Asia it is perhaps worth pausing to reflect on all the implications for a more populist form of government. Afghanistan has had at least the semblance of democracy for almost a decade – yet what is the fate of the minority in a country where, for generations, brutal oppression has been the modus-operandi of the majority?


Admittedly, not many lessons can be taken from the 2010 Afghan election result which saw widespread fraud, physical intimidation and murder of candidates, self-confessed war criminals on the ballot and only three million eligible voters expressing their preference at all in a country of over fifteen million people. Something that might just pique our interest, however, is that of the 249 seats up for grabs one quarter were won by Hazara candidates. This is indicative of two factors: firstly, Hazarajat is one of the safest areas of a country savaged by unrelenting sectarian violence; and secondly, the Hazara people have wholeheartedly embraced democracy and democratic values and fully appreciate the enormous opportunities that allied military intervention has provided.

The journey the Harazaras have taken to arrive at this point is a story of unremitting abuse. Their history follows the depressingly predictable trajectory of a predominantly Shia minority within a Sunni populace made up of Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks. Marked out by their faith and their mixed Eurasian genetic heritage, the Hazaras have found themselves on the wrong side of an apartheid society, a state of affairs interrupted only by intermittent genocides. The Eighteenth Century Emir, Dost Mohammed Kahn was content with targeted racial taxation, while his eventual successor, Abdur Rahman Khan, preferred to massacre or banish the hated Kafir (infidels). Following the attempt to conquer Afghanistan by the Soviets, the Hazaras were split into two warring factions, secular nationalists based in Pakistan and Khomeni-inspired Islamists who were ultimately successful. However, in subsuming the secular thinkers into their ranks the Iranian-supported Hazaras unified their various resistance factions under the nationalist umbrella of Hezb-eWhadat. The leader of this movement, Abdul Ali Mazari, was subsequently assassinated by a new and terrible Pashtun government made up of the very worst kind of Sunni extremists. The Taliban’s subsequent destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas which so appalled the international community was as much a display of power to the Hazara people sheltering in caves on that same hillside, as it was a statement of Islamic superiority or the removal of blasphemous idols. Whatever atrocities had been committed by the Emirs would pale in comparison to this regime’s truly exceptional brand of evil.


Besudi Hazara chieftains (taken by John Burke in 1879-80 - from wikisource)
Today Afghanistan falls under the purview of international law as overseen by the United Nations. Hazaras have grabbed the opportunity for education and democracy with both hands. Hazaras are to be found in almost every human rights and democracy-promoting organisation throughout the country. Even though they constitute only 9% of the populace over a third of all University entrance tests are taken by young Hazaras.[1] But this should hardly surprise Western observers. The Hazara people have long made education, even the education of women, a priority. Much of the money they raise within their own communities is spent setting up schools in Hazarajat, while arguments over the nature and necessity of pluralism have been raging in Central Afghanistan for generations while the rest of the country were content to allow the eradication of all ethnic, cultural and religious differences. Most tellingly of all, however, Hazara farmers almost unanimously eschew as “un-Islamic” the practice of Poppy growing that has been embraced wholeheartedly by swathes of the Pashtun population. In truth, the Hazaras were ready for liberation in a way the majority Sunni populations simply weren’t.

But of course, however many Hazaras end up in parliament, the Pashtuns and Tajic warlords still control Afghanistan. The pathetic Hamid Karzai may work alongside minorities in his administration but he has no interest in ending his people’s proud tradition of racist oppression. Of all the billions Afghanistan receive in aid money only a fraction of a fraction has been spent in the central regions – no new roads, new schools or new hospitals for the Hazara. Jobs in Kabul and other urban centres are still split along entirely racial lines, with Hazaras finding what manual work they can and still publically scorned by the less-educated majority. The universities are largely controlled by extremist Sunni pseudo-scholars who lack the intelligence of the Hazara students they either exclude or bully into leaving. Hazara youngsters who graduate at the top of their classes in mixed-raced schools suddenly find themselves denied entry to the lowliest universities, even as their less talented Pashtun and Tajic classmates mysteriously start excelling when they come to take entrance tests. While Pashtun-Tajic, Tajic-Uzbek or Uzbek-Pashtun marriages are generally permissible, no Hazara will ever be good enough for the son or daughter of a Sunni household. Finally, lest we forget, the Taliban are still an ugly and active force in Afghan regional politics. Hazara elders are routinely slaughtered by the fascist cowards who still claim divine right to rule the peoples of Afghanistan.

As long as the Afghan government has to bend to the popular will, supporting Hazaras will never be government policy. The only hope for these embattled people lies in the by-products of democracy: in particular, non-discriminatory education, a free press, and the abandonment of primitive fundamentalist religious values. Meanwhile, as we look over the middles east and see regimes on the brink of collapse, if not already toppled, for the first time we have to ask ourselves what the popular will has to say. Women, homosexuals, Christians, Jews, indeed all racial and religious minorities are faced with the possibility that majority opinion is about to make itself heard. I firmly believe, perhaps naively, that a new democracy inevitably transforms over time into a liberal democracy as the necessities of constant compromise and gradually improving educational standards help shape the popular mood. The process of getting there, however, may well be long, violent and scarred by flagrant inequality.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] See Phil Zabriskie’s excellent article for National Geographic: The Outsiders

Source,

http://theharrysmallshow.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/is-democracy-always-for-the-better-the-forgotten-plight-of-afghanistan%e2%80%99s-hazara-minority/

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ten years after the destruction of Buddhist relics in Afghanistan

Only the outline of the one of the two Bamiyan Buddha statues is leftTen years ago the Taliban destroyed two huge, ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan's Bamiyan region. That eliminated more than 1,000 years of cultural heritage, and much of the region's Hindu population has since left.
Exactly 10 years ago, on February 26, 2001, Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered the destruction of two enormous and ancient Buddha statues in the Bamiyan region of Afghanistan. Monks who came to the region along with caravan routes connecting India and China had carved them into the face of a sandstone cliff some 1,500 years ago. Ratbil Shamel, of Deutsche Welle's Afghan service, answered questions about the situation there today.

Deutsche Welle: Can you tell me a bit about the Bamiyan area? How significant are its minority Hindu and Hazara populations? What role do they play in society there?

Ratbil Shamel: The Bamiyan region connected caravan routes between India and China, making it a significant region. It was a very interesting and important economic center, which is what brought these monks to the region. Also, Bamiyan has plenty of water and good soil for agriculture. So they carved these Buddha statues into the sandstone cliff along with very many living quarters. According to some sources they created as many as 900 living units.

Also, Mongol tribes settled in the region and were eventually converted to Islam. Those are the people we call the Hazara today. Over the years the region was intentionally left undeveloped to undermine them, and people still live in the cliff dwellings today. Since the fall of the Taliban, Bamiyan has experienced a kind of rebirth.

The Buddha statues themselves were never considered by the local population as religious icons. To them, they were just a part of history which had always been there. The people themselves never tried to destroy the statues.

What was the significance of Mullah Omar's edict that the statues should be destroyed?

For the Taliban, Mullah Omar is the "Emir" and therefore the leader of all believers in the world. They are anything but modest. And if the leader of all the world's believers delivers a religious edict, then all Muslims are obliged to obey. Of course, the people of Afghanistan didn't do so - the statues were part of their culture. Taliban fighters did it. They destroyed more than a thousand years of cultural heritage.

How much of an effect does this ideology have on the Afghani population?

Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Deutsche Welle's Ratbil ShamelEven today Mullah Omar's followers believe his word is final and above everything else. If he orders suicide bombings or the destruction of schools, then the population will suffer from that. It's a very large problem.

How much religious tolerance exists in Afghan society today as a whole?

First of all, people are generally not on the side of the Taliban. So far there have been no demonstrations in favor of the Taliban or al Qaeda, as there have been in Pakistan.

The fact that Hindus are actually the original inhabitants of the region who never gave up their religion - that is not accepted with tolerance amongst the population. Hindu children struggle in schools, their families have difficulties with the authorities and the government either won't or can't protect them. Tolerance towards Hindus has dwindled with 30 years of war, and many of them are leaving the country, as the Jews did.

People are leaving Afghanistan. So how close is the link between the country and its immigrant diaspora?

All of the refugees who have fled Afghanistan maintain a very close link with the country, because they are often the ones who are supplying their families with money. Without them, many families would be completely without means. There are hardly any Afghans in exile who have no link to Afghanistan. At the very least they are usually supporting family members or former neighbors.

What kind a societal impact does this have on Afghanistan?

It has enabled thousands of families to send their children to school. Also, relatives in exile send home books and try to chat with their family over the Internet. This in itself has a positive impact, because it means less people are willing to believe radical propaganda telling them that people in the West are immoral enemies of Islam wanting to destroy Afghanistan's pride.

How have the Afghan people's conceptions of what Islam is - and how it should be practiced - changed as a result?

The biggest change is that people recognize that the Taliban and al Qaeda have nothing to do with the reality of Islam. Islam is a peaceful religion, and we lived for hundreds of years in harmony with our neighbors - whether they were Hindus or others.

The average Afghan has a background of Sufism, which preaches to "live and let live." The radicalization and politicization of Islam began after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when it was presented as an alternative to the "godless communists."

People now are less under the influence of Taliban propaganda - and they have less faith in the Taliban - because they've seen what that vision of Afghanistan's future looks like. That could change if the development of the country doesn't succeed at all. But they want peace, because it's something most of them have never experienced. The absolute majority of Afghans don't know what it means to live in peace; they only know that it's something they feel a deep yearning for.

Interview: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: Nicole Goebel


Source,
http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14874410,00.html

Looking at ‘the other’ through very different lenses

R.M. Vaughan: The Exhibitionist




Rafal Gerszak at Pikto Gallery
Until March 6, 55 Mill St., Building 59-103, Toronto; pikto.com/gallery

Two very different photographic experiences await viewers with the fortitude to go stroller-dodging through Toronto’s Distillery District.

Rafal Gerszak’s Thousand, a photo-documentary of the Hazara community in Afghanistan – a minority group who live under near-constant threat of violence from the dominant populations – is a remarkably gentle show, given the ungentle reality of the Hazara people. Taken with an old camera (i.e. using rolls of film, not digital files) that Gerszak bought in Afghanistan, the portraits and landscapes are suffused with a smoky, indistinct light, a dreamy texture that makes this largely unknown people seem even more difficult to know.
I know it’s cliché to talk about the warmth of film compared with digital imagery’s crisp exactness (not to mention the whole mysterious peoples in faraway lands chestnut), but sometimes the film/digital cliché is just true (and people you don’t know are mysterious, whether they live on another continent or next door). But Gerszak is careful not to fall into the exoticizing traps of Orientalism – while the photos may look as if they were taken through a cloud of incense haze, the subjects are too self-aware, and camera-aware, to be read as romanticized others, as uninformed objects of questionable anthropological study.

In one image, a woman stands in front of a plaster wall that looks like it was the victim of a bad mould attack, or worse. Small and finely featured, the woman nevertheless owns the pictorial space. Her gaze is direct, and despite all the distressed surface that surrounds her, her expression conveys both confidence and caution.

In another image, an elderly man sits by himself in a rundown café, surrounded by empty chairs (the implication is clear – men and women of fighting age, adults who might be his friends or relatives, are otherwise occupied). The man looks to the floor, pensively. It would be easy to read this as a maudlin image, but only if one does not take into account the man’s perfectly folded scarf, tidy appearance and flawlessly knotted turban. This is not a bedraggled survivor, but rather a man whose fate, which we can only assume has been very likely tainted by violence, has not robbed him of his innate sense of self-presentation, indeed his natty style.
The standout image from Thousand, for me, is a blunt head-and-shoulders portrait of a bearded man in his mid-40s (my age), dressed in a military-style jacket and sporting a haphazardly wound turban. Alarmingly handsome, in that crinkly Harrison Ford way, the man could be a Hazara movie star. His sideways glance is caught midway between mocking and crabby, and his mouth is equally uncertain whether to smile or sneer.

Apparently, no matter what one’s situation, the quizzical distrust of the camera remains universal.
Stephen Waddell at Clark & Faria
Until March 20, 55 Mill Street, Building 2, Toronto, www.monteclarkgallery.com

It’s perhaps unfair to compare Stephen Waddell’s photographs of street life in Vancouver and Berlin with Gerszak’s practice. British Columbia is not Afghanistan, parallel booming narcotics trades aside. Waddell has not tasked himself with making a record of a threatened people. Nevertheless, similarities linger.

Both Waddell and Gerszak photograph found people, and thus engage in dialogues about the intrusiveness of the lens and the problematics of capturing strangers without demeaning or otherwise objectifying said subjects. Gerszak’s approach is more direct – his subjects clearly know they are being photographed. Waddell presents a more sneaky, and thus more fraught, strategy. Most of his subjects are not facing the camera: They are recorded with their backs turned or while looking away from the photographer’s front-and-centre position.

When Waddell’s casual, sidestep strategy works, it really works. For instance, an image of a rail-thin older woman taking a break outside of a Berlin cinema, her hip titling sexily away from the focal point, is coy and considered. Is she posing? We can’t know. In another work, a young woman with bright green hair tiptoes across a railway track. We see only the back of her dyed head, and her body wrapped in a cheery summer dress. Did she agree to this photograph? Again, we are limited in what we can know.

The most intriguing photo of the suite is of a street person pushing a packed, bright-blue shopping cart. I write “street person” with confidence only after asking the gallerist some core questions: Is this an actor? If not, does Waddell know this person? Did the subject agree to be photographed? I am very suspicious of photographers who photograph the poor and possibly abject, and I hate, to red-eyed rage, the poverty tourism generated by too many photographers in this country.

Another reason I grilled the gallerist is that the person pushing the cart is wearing a bright-green goblin Halloween mask – an inherently performative gesture. This mask, I learned, was the central reason for Waddell deciding to photograph someone he sees every day in his Vancouver neighbourhood.

Without question, Waddell’s magpie-sharp eye for accidental, found colour combinations is sharp and smart, as witnessed in his many photographs of Berlin’s non-stop, carnivalesque vibe. But to think that all Waddell saw of this person, who may or may not be living in diminished circumstances, was the mask, that Waddell may have read this person as a mere visual stimulant, not a human being, unnerved me. So, I asked.

Waddell, I’m told, is familiar with his subject and the subject was aware of the camera. Fine.

Perhaps in an age when we are all being reduced to visual fodder, through Facebook and other image-generating/delivering systems, Waddell’s half-considered, half-accidental approach to photographing “the other” is the best we can hope for.
Whatever you decide about the humanistic implications of Waddell’s work, you can never say the artist takes a boring picture. The amount of unpacking his see-saw semiotics require will keep any viewer busy for hours.

Source,
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/rm-vaughan/photos-from-gerszak-waddell-highlight-visual-distance/article1920741/?utm_medium=Feeds%3A%20RSS%2FAtom&utm_source=Toronto&utm_content=1920741

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bamiyan Buddhas once glowed in red, white and blue : Eurek Alert

Bamiyan Buddhas once glowed in red, white and blue
TUM conservators research the ruins of the statues and offer an outlook on the prospect of restoration
This release is available in Spanish, French and German.



IMAGE: The illustration shows the colored appearance of the Bamiyan Buddhas’ robes at the end of the 10th century. Parts damaged in later periods, which cannot be reconstructed, are made visible.

Credit: Arnold Metzinger

The world watched in horror as Taliban fanatics ten years ago blew up the two gigantic Buddha statues that had since the 6th century looked out over the Bamiyan Valley in what is now Afghanistan. Located on the Silk Road, until the 10th century the 55 and 38 meter tall works of art formed the centerpiece of one of the world's largest Buddhist monastic complexes. Thousands of monks tended countless shrines in the niches and caves that pierced a kilometer-long cliff face.

Since the suppression of the Taliban regime, European and Japanese experts, working on behalf of UNESCO and coordinated by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), have been endeavoring to secure the remains and restore access to the statues. The fragments are being very carefully examined, as prior to the explosion the Buddha statues had barely been researched. For a year and a half now, scientists from the Chair of Restoration, Art Technology and Conservation Science have been studying several hundred fragments at the TUM. Their findings not only contribute to our understanding of this world cultural heritage site, they may also enable the parts recovered to be reassembled:



Coloration: "The Buddhas once had an intensely colorful appearance," says Professor Erwin Emmerling. His team discovered that prior to the conversion of the region to Islam, the statues were overpainted several times, presumably because the colors had faded. The outer robes, or sangati, were painted dark blue on the inside and pink, and later bright orange, on top. In a further phase, the larger Buddha was painted red and the smaller white, while the interior of the robes was repainted in a paler blue. The graphic reconstruction undertaken by the TUM researchers confirms ancient traditions: sources as far back as the 11th century speak of one red Buddha and one moon-white. The other parts of the figures may possibly have had a white priming coat, but that can no longer be proven beyond doubt.





IMAGE: Restorers from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen have analyzed hundreds of fragments of the Bamiyan Buddhas.

Credit: Catharina Blaensdorf / TU Muenche

Construction technique: The statues themselves were hewn out of the cliff; however, the flowing garments were formed by craftsmen using clay, which was applied in two or three layers. The remains display an astonishing degree of artistic skill. "The surfaces are perfectly smooth – of a quality otherwise only found in fired materials such as porcelain," says Professor Emmerling. In the clay, the TUM conservators found straw and chaff which absorb moisture, animal hairs which stabilize the plaster like fine glass fibers, and quartz and other additives which prevent shrinkage. The bottom layer of plaster was held in place with ropes attached to small wooden pegs. This allowed the craftsmen of old to apply unusually thick layers of up to eight centimeters. "These have survived not only nearly 1500 years of history, but even the explosion in some parts," adds Professor Emmerling in amazement.


Dating: Previous attempts to determine when the statues originated were estimates based on the style of the Buddha's robes or similar criteria. Now mass spectrometer tests at the ETH Zurich and the University of Kiel have determined the age of the organic material in the clay layers. The TUM scientists have, as a result, been able to date the construction of the smaller Buddha to between 544 and 595 and the larger Buddha between 591 and 644.


Conservation: How can the fragments at this world heritage site be conserved for the future? The ICOMOS teams have in the meantime stacked the ruins in temporary warehouses in the Bamiyan Valley. Larger pieces have been covered over in situ. "However, that will only last for a few years, because the sandstone is very porous," Professor Emmerling explains. Conventional methods of conservation are out of the question. "On this scale, under the climatic conditions in the Bamiyan Valley, the behavior of the synthetic resins usually used would vary too widely relative to the natural rock." Expert conservator Professor Emmerling has therefore joined forces with Consolidas, a company founded by a TUM graduate, to refine a process recently developed by the latter for possible use on the Buddha fragments: instead of synthetic resins, it might be possible to inject an organic silicon compound in the stone.





IMAGE: The bottom layer of the Bamiyan Buddhas' plaster was held in place with ropes.

Credit: Edmund Melzl / ICOMOS

In addition, the TUM conservators are also working on a 3D model of the cliff face that shows all of the pieces in their former position. Professor Emmerling considers a reconstruction of the smaller Buddha to be fundamentally possible – he argues in favor of reassembling the recovered parts, rather than attempting to reconstruct the original condition in antiquity. As far as the larger Buddha is concerned, in view of its depth of around 12 meters, Professor Emmerling is more skeptical. The smaller figure with a depth of around two meters was more along the lines of a relief. However, even to restore this figure, there are political and practical obstacles to overcome. Conservation of the fragments would require the construction of a small factory in the Bamiyan Valley – alternatively some 1400 rocks weighing up to two tons each would have to be transported to Germany. A conference to be held in Paris next week will consider the continuing fate of the Buddhas.


###
Contact:
Prof. Erwin Emmerling
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Lehrstuhl für Restaurierung, Kunsttechnologie und Konservierungswissenschaft
Tel.: 089 21124 -559 / -568
E-mail: emmerling@tum.de

Source,
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-02/tum-bbo022511.php

German scientists eye Afghan Buddha reconstruction

(AFP)

BERLIN — German scientists said Friday they believed it possible to reconstruct one of the world-famous Bamiyan Buddhas dynamited by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, prompting worldwide condemnation.

Scientists from the University of Munich, in southern Germany, have examined fragments of the statues -- the world's largest Buddhas -- and concluded that the smaller one could be pieced together.

The two sculptures, 53 metres (173 feet) and 35 metres tall, had stood sentinel for 1,500 years in Bamiyan province before they were blown up by Islamists who believed them to be idolatrous.

Erwin Emmerling, the leader of the team sifting through hundreds of fragments, "considers a reconstruction of the smaller Buddha to be fundamentally possible," the university said in a statement.

"As far as the larger Buddha is concerned, in view of its depth (thickness) of around 12 metres, Professor Emmerling is more sceptical," it said.

Nevertheless, the university cited "political and practical" obstacles to rebuilding the precious statues.

Either a small factory would have to be built in the Bamiyan valley or some 1,400 rocks weighing up to two tonnes each would have to be transported to Germany. Japanese funding could reportedly be used to rebuild the sculptures.

They were once painted a variety of colours, the scientists said, including dark blue, pink, orange, red and white.

"The Buddhas once had an intensely colourful appearance," Emmerling said.

Based on their investigation, the scientists also dated the smaller Buddha to between 544 and 595 AD. The bigger Buddha was built between 591 and 644, they said.

A conference in Paris to debate the future of the Buddhas is expected to take place next week, the statement said.

The niches where they once stood overlooking Bamiyan city, the eponymous capital of the province, are being restored as a UN World Heritage site.

بحران در مجلس نمایندگان، قدرت سیاسی و خواسته های قومی

توفیق نیافتن نمایندگان پارلمان درانتخاب رئیس این مجلس پس از برگذاری چهار
دوره انتخابات پر تنش و پرچالش، نه بخاطر قحطی رجال سیاسی است و نه الزاما نشانه آزادی های دمکراتیک در یک فرایند مدنی، بلکه نشانگر نوعی شکست و گسستی است که پس از ده سال تلاش و امید داخلی و تکاپو و حمایت خارجی از روند تربیت مدنی سیاستمداران افغانستان و بهسازی نظام سیاسی دراین کشور، صورت گرفته است.

پریشانی در نظام اندیشه سیاسی

کند ذهنی رهبران سیاسی افغانستان در درک شرایط پیچیده و نا توانی آنها در ایجاد تغییرات ذهنی و اخلاق سیاسی، موجب شده است که فرصتهای ده ساله پس از سقوط رژیم طالبان، برای ایجاد و تقویت نظم مدنی و تجربه دولتسازی، به تدریج به غفلت سپری گردد.

پس از قرارداد بن در سال ٢٠٠١ که نظارت و حمایت جامعه بین المللی از فرایند صلح و استقرار نظام سیاسی، تنگتر، مسلط تر و نزدیکتر بود، روند کلی اوضاع سیاسی و سیر تعامل رهبران و سیاستمداران افغانستان در حوزه قدرت و جامعه نیز، موجه تر و منضبط تر می نمود.

در تمام گزینش ها و گفتمان هایی که پیرامون دولت موقت، دولت انتقالی و یا دور نخست انتخابات ریاست جمهوری و پارلمانی انجام شد، توافق و تعامل بر سیره و منش خویشتندارانه شکیبایی و مسالمت جویی استوار بود اما بعد از سال ٢٠٠٥، که تلاش ناسنجیده و عاطفی برای فاصله گرفتن تدریجی رهبری کشور از حوزه ی نفوذ و تاثیرحامیان بیرونی تبارز یافت. نه تنها استقلال سیاسی و ارتقای ظرفیت سیاسی ـ مدیریتی تامین نشد بلکه هر روز به چالش تدریجی در روابط دوستانه با حامیان بین المللی دامن زده شد و از دیگرسو، نوعی فرسایش و نا خویشتنداری نیز در تعامل ارکان دولت و در میان بازیگران سیاست کلان کشور، مجال ظهور پیدا کرد.

چهار دور انتخابات برای گزینش رئیس مجلس نمایندگان، نشان داد که هیچ یک از کاندیداهای دو دور اخیر نتوانسته اند آرای سیاف و قانونی را کسب کنند. چنین موضوعی این گمان را تقویت می کند که دو فرد یاد شده، با توجه به این که بیشترین شانس را در میان حامیان و هوادان خود دارند، ممکن است سناریویی در کار باشد که بازهم به بازگشت و کاندید شدن آنان منجر گردد.
در سالهای پسین، در همه مقاطع مهم و تحولات بزرگی مانند انتخابات ریاست جمهوری و انتخابات پارلمانی و یا پدیده های سیاسی ـ داخلی دیگر، بازیگران سیاسی تا سرحد ستیزه های خطرساز پیش رفته اند و روند ملی را دچار آسیبهای جدی نموده اند.

این نشانه هارا به روشنی می توان درانتخابات دور دوم ریاست جمهوری و نیز پارلمانی دید. تنش، تخلف و تقابل گستره و پر مخاطره ای که در فرایند این دو مرحله ی انتخاباتی و بصورت نا معقول تر در بحران بازگشایی شورای ملی پدید آمد، نوعی بازگشت به سنت های قومی سیاست ورزی و رجوع به اخلاق سیاسی دوره جنگهای داخلی را بازتولید کرد.

اکنون اما، نا امیدی، بی اعتباری و نا کامی ای که در جریان انتخاب رئیس پارلمان اتفاق افتاده، تجلی پریشانی عمیقی در تعامل ملی و عقیم ماندن اندیشه سیاسی و درک و تعهد ملی در میان رهبران، سیاستمداران وحتی روشنفکران افغانستان می باشد که از پند نیاموزی سیاسی، فقدان درک قواعد بازی و مساحت محدود عقلانیت و خرد خود بنیاد این نخبگان، نشأت می گیرد.

قدرت سیاسی وخواسته های قومی

به نظر می رسد بن بست پدید آمده در انتخاب ریس مجلس نمایندگان، پیش از آن که بصورت ساده، درصف بندی سه جبهه " دولت"، " اپوزیسیون" و"بی طرف ها" تعریف گردد، نیازمند دید عمیقتر و توضیح جامعه شناختی از موزایک قومی افغانستان می باشد.

تعمق در ترکیب قومی اعضای مجلس نمایندگان در دور جدید، الگوی واقع بینانه تری در تحلیل و بازشناسی بحران های سیاسی ـ ملی به دست می دهد که درک کنیم مشکل انتخاب رئیس شوری اساسا ریشه درمفروضه چگونگی پدیده توزیع قدرت دارد نه الزاما در جناح بندی های سیاسی و یا گروه بندی های فکری ـ ایدئولوژیک.

براساس یک بر رسی، از مجموع ۲۴۹ عضو مجلس نمایندگان، ۹۸ کرسی به پشتون ها، ۷۲ کرسی به تاجیک ها، ۵۲ کرسی به هزاره ها و ۱۹ کرسی دیگر به ازبکها اختصاص یافته و اقلیت های قومی دیگر در مجلس صاحب هشت کرسی شده اند.

این آمار صرف نظر از میزان شمارگان، بیانگر تکثر و تنوعی است که ساختار قومی افغانستان را آیینه داری می کند و همواره در تاریخ سیاسی ـ اجتماعی این کشور منشا گوناگونی فرهنگی، نا همگونی اجتماعی، شکافهای فعال ساختاری و نا شکیبایی های سیاسی بوده است.

پس از ورود و خروج نیروهای شوروی سابق از افغانستان، موازنه ی سنتی قدرت در افغانستان فروریخت و در آرایش تازه، گروههای دیگر قومی فرصت ظهور سیاسی و تبلور اجتماعی پیدا کردند. تاجیک ها، مهمترین گروه قومی بودند که با پیروزی مجاهدین، قدرت سیاسی را بدست آوردند و به مدت ٥ سال در کابل فرمان راندند.


یونس قانونی رئیس پیشین مجلس می گوید اگر یکی از کسانی که در دوره های چهارگانه قبلی نامزد ریاست مجلس بودند، دوباره نامزد شوند، او نیز کاندیدا خواهد بود
ظهور و تسلط طالبان بر افغانستان اما، به اعاده دوباره قدرت سیاسی به پشتون ها منجر شد. با ورود آمریکا و ائتلاف بین المللی به افغانستان، هرچند رژیم قبیله ای ـ مذهبی طالبان سقوط کرد اما برمبنای معاهده و مواقتنامه بن، سنت سیاسی توزیع قدرت تجدید شد و مشروعیت بین المللی پیدا کرد.

برمبنای این سنت، برای نخستین بار، نوعی سلسله مراتب درتعریف و توزیع قدرت سیاسی شکل گرفت. این سلسله مراتب در نماد رئیس جمهوری پشتون بعنوان قدرت نخست، معاون اول تاجیک به مثابه قدرت دوم و معاون دوم هزاره در ردیف قدرت سوم، تمثیل می گردد. مدعا و مصداق اجتماعی تبلور این سلسله مراتب در دو دوره انتخابات ریاست جمهوری نیز به نمایش در آمد. برمبنای این سنجش( نه چندان دقیق وغیر قابل اتکا) کاندید پشتون ها در رتبه نخست، کاندید تاجیک ها در رتبه دوم وکاندید هزاره ها در ردیف سوم قرار گرفته اند.

این که این نماد تا چه حد از حقایق عینی و واقعیتهای قومی افغانستان نمایندگی می کند، موضوع دیگری است اما آنچه که قابل طرح، درخور سنجش و شایسته اندیشه گری است این است که همه طرفها و اقوام عمده، با استدلال ها و مبتنی بر توقعات و مطالبات مخصوص به خود، از نحوه چیدمان قدرت سیاسی نقش و میزان نقش و حضور خود درساختار نظام دولتی ناراضی هستند.

تاجیک ها که رقیب اصلی پشتون ها درتعامل قدرت سیاسی هستند، پس از تجربه حکومت بر کابل، نوستالوژی بازگشت به این دوره را همیشه در آرزوی سیاسی خویش حفظ کرده اند. دراین میان، هزاره ها وازبک ها، مدعی رقابت در قدرت نیستند اما خواهان مشارکت درساختار قدرت و سهم درخور از نظام سیاسی و امتیازات ملی می باشند.

این دو قوم در فرایند تعامل قدرت میان پشتون ها و تاجیک ها، نقش مهم و متوازن کننده را دارند. گرایش سیاسی و ائتلاف استراتژیک این دو قوم با هرکدام از دو گروه مدعی قدرت سیاسی، می تواند تعیین کننده معادله چیدمان قدرت باشد.

در ماجرای انتخاب رئیس مجلس نمایندگان، پدیده توزیع قدرت قومی نقش تعیین کننده ای ایفا می کند. مقام ریاست مجلس نمایندگان، تنها موقعیتی بود که در دور گذشته از کنترل پشتون ها خارج بود. تقریبا تمامی گروه ها و جناح های سیاسی پشتون این بار به تصاحب ریاست پارلمان چشم دوخته اند. ظاهرا به نظر می رسد حامد کرزی نیز به دلیل نگاه قومی و هم بخاطر یک کاسه شدن ارکان دولتی، شدیدا در تلاش است که این مقام در اختیار گروه قومی وسیاسی خود وی قرار بگیرد.

نیروی متوازن کننده و ائتلاف های شکننده

پیش ازجریان رأی گیری برای انتخاب ریس مجلس نمایندگان، نمایندگان هزاره، گویا با یونس قانونی به توافقاتی رسیده بودند تا از وی حمایت کنند اما آنگونه که در چهار دوره رای گیری روشن شد، این توافقات چندان محکم و قطعی نبوده است. به نظر می رسد این حکایت، تابلویی است از وضعیت آشفته سیاسی و عمق ناپایداری ها و بی اعتمادی هایی که در جان و جهان سیاستمداران و رهبران قومی افغاستان تنیده است و بخوبی در جریان بن بست انتخاب رئیس مجلس نمایندگان تبلور یافته است.

هزاره ها و بخش زیادی از ازبک ها در سیاستمداری و فرایند چانه زنی امروزه کشور، از چند خلا و مشکل بزرگ رنج می برند:

نخست فقدان رهبری سیاسی متمرکز، موثر و مقتدر.

دوم، فقدان اهداف تعریف شده و روشن استراتژیک.

سوم، گرایش های جناحی ودرون گروهی متفاوت، وگاه متضاد.

چهارم، ظهور نسل جدیدی از سیاستگران و بازیگران که عمدتا از تجربه، توانایی و حمایت لازم در چانه زنی ها برخوردار نیستند و بیشتر فردی و مستقل عمل می کنند.

پنجم، تجربه ی ناکام از ائتلافهای سیاسی با سایر گروههای قومی وگرفتار شدن دربحران شک وبی اعتمادی.

این خصوصیات سیاسی بازیگران عرصه ی سیاست هزاره ها وازبک ها، در نتایج چانه زنی بر سر توافق با یونس قانونی و یا عبدالرب رسول سیاف نیز تبلور پیدا کرد.


عبدالرب رسول سیاف رقیب اصلی یونس قانونی برای ریاست مجلس تاکید دارد که برای حل بحران کنونی باید به کمیته نظارت از قانون اساسی مراجعه شود
چهار دور انتخابات برای گزینش رئیس مجلس نمایندگان، نشان داد که هیچ یک از کاندیداهای دو دور اخیر نتوانسته اند آرای سیاف و قانونی را کسب کنند. چنین موضوعی این گمان را تقویت می کند که دو فرد یاد شده، با توجه به این که بیشترین شانس را در میان حامیان و هوادان خود دارند، ممکن است سناریویی در کار باشد که بازهم به بازگشت و کاندید شدن آنان منجر گردد.

حال، پرسش اساسی این است که اگر چنین اتفاقی بیفتد، آیا نمایندگان هزاره و ازبک با توجه به تنشهای پدید آمده در روزهای اخیر، کدام گزینه را انتخاب خواهند کرد؟ و آیا مجلس نمایندگان بعنوان یک مرجع دمکراتیک و قانونگذار، هویت های قومی و رویکردهای قبیله ای را وارد فاز تازه ای در حوزه چانه زنی های سیاسی نخواهد کرد؟ و آیا این خطر که گرایش های قومی در مجلس نمایندگان به قوت خود باقی بماند و نتواند به مرور زمان تبدیل به یک گرایش ملی شود، بیشتر از پیش احساس نمی شود.

حمزه واعظی

نویسنده و پژوهشگر افغان در اسلو

Source,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/afghanistan/2011/02/110225_l09_af_parliament_problems.shtml

The failed state we’re in

Clare Lockhart 29th June 2008 — Issue 147

The international community has spent billions on reconstructing Afghanistan—yet the country has made dismayingly little progress. It's time for a radical new approach to state-building

We would like to tell you the story of $150m going up in smoke,” said the young villager. “We heard on the radio that there was going to be a reconstruction programme in our region to help us rebuild our houses after coming back from exile, and we were very pleased.”

This was the summer of 2002. The village was in a remote part of Bamiyan province, in Afghanistan’s central highlands, and several hours’ drive from the provincial capital—utterly cut off from the world. UN agencies and NGOs were rushing to provide “quick impact” projects to help Afghan citizens in the aftermath of war. $150m could have transformed the lives of the inhabitants of villages like this one.

But it was not to be, as the young man explained. “After many months, very little had happened. We may be illiterate, but we are not stupid. So we went to find out what was going on. And this is what we discovered: the money was received by an agency in Geneva, who took 20 per cent and subcontracted the job to another agency in Washington DC, who also took 20 per cent. Again it was subcontracted and another 20 per cent was taken; and this happened again when the money arrived in Kabul. By this time there was very little money left; but enough for someone to buy wood in western Iran and have it shipped by a shipping cartel owned by a provincial governor at five times the cost of regular transportation. Eventually some wooden beams reached our villages. But the beams were too large and heavy for the mud walls that we can build. So all we could do was chop them up and use them for firewood.”

Source,

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2008/06/thefailedstatewerein/

9th Expert Working Group Meeting for the Safeguarding of the Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley

UNESCO is organizing, in close collaboration with the Permanent Delegation of Afghanistan to UNESCO and the Government of Afghanistan, the 9th Expert Working Group Meeting for the Preservation of the Safeguarding of the Cultural Landscape and Archaeological Remains of the Bamiyan Valley World Heritage Property, UNESCO Headquarters (Room VI).

The 45 participants of the Expert Working Group Meeting include national staff from the Afghan Government, international experts and implementing partners. The purpose of the Meeting is to monitor and evaluate the project activities that have been carried out and to update and co-ordinate future priority actions for the following year. The Afghan Government participates fully in the co-ordination of the previous Expert Working meetings with representatives from the Ministry of Information and Culture, the Ministry of Urban Development as well as the Governor of Bamiyan.

The two-day expert working meeting follows the 2 March 2011 International Forum: "Towards Cultural Rapprochement and Tolerance", to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragic destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan in March 2001.

Source,
http://whc.unesco.org/fr/evenements/726

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The hill of gold

(It seems that history of Central Asia is interlinked so deeply to each other that modern segregation of nations becomes increasingly obscure as we go deep past)........

The hill of goldIn 1978 a hoard of treasures was discovered at Tillya Tepe, Afghnistan. Having survived thirty years of shelling, looting and Taliban raids it's the highlight of a new British Museum exhibition


Peter Thonemann , The Guardian,

Saturday 19 February 2011, Article history



Treasures from Tillya Tepe ... a pair of gold clasps depicting warriors. Photograph: National Museum of Afghanistan © Thierry Ollivier/Museé Guimet

Are you keen to help finance the activities of warlords and insurgents across Afghanistan and Pakistan? As I write, eBay is inviting bids on no fewer than 128 ancient Bactrian and Indo-Greek silver and bronze coins, from sellers in Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand and the United States. Probably every one of them is the product of looting over the past 20 years. With luck, you might even pick up one of the tens of thousands of items plundered from the collections of the old National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul between 1992 and 2001. For those with deep pockets, I can particularly recommend the eBay seller "The Precious Art from Past", who is currently offering 289 looted AfPak objects for sale, including an extraordinary ancient Gandharan sculpture of a seated Heracles in near-perfect condition, yours for £18,950 plus postage and packing.

Such are the hazards of living at a "crossroads of civilizations". It must be said that this kind of briskly utilitarian attitude towards Afghanistan's pre-Islamic heritage is nothing new. In 1999, the leader of the Taliban government, Mullah Omar, issued a decree forbidding any damage to the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan, on the grounds that the Taliban considered the Bamiyan statues "as an example of a potential major source of income for Afghanistan from international visitors". Aside from their potential economic value, no obvious benefits derived from the existence of the Bamiyan Buddhas: as Omar rightly noted "In Afghanistan there are no Buddhists to worship the statues."

Why should a Pashtun Muslim feel any sense of responsibility for the culture of Gandharan Buddhists? Dozens of times over the past 3,000 years, the plains and valleys around the foothills of the Hindu Kush have changed hands between Iranians, Greeks, Chinese, Scythians, Turks and Indians. An oft-photographed plaque outside the National Museum in Kabul reads: "A Nation Stays Alive When Its Culture Stays Alive". No one should be taken in by the bland phrasing – this is as provocative as it gets. Which culture? Whose nation? In March 2001, Omar gave one answer, by revoking his decision of two years earlier and ordering the dynamiting of the Bamiyan buddhas. Simultaneously, most of the few remaining pre-Islamic objects in the Kabul museum were also smashed or sold off. It would be quite wrong to see the events of March 2001 as merely an act of barbarous vandalism (though they certainly were that too). They also represented a particular claim about which bits of Afghanistan's history were worth preserving: for the Taliban, the only "national culture" that mattered was the one that began in AD622.

For an alternative account of Afghanistan's bloody history – one, as it were, with the Buddhists left in – we can look to a spectacular exhibition which opens at the British Museum next month. Neil MacGregor, director of the museum, hopes to show that "We are at a historically anomalous moment when the country is seen as remote and isolated . . . Afghanistan's relationships are long and deep." At the heart of the exhibition is the miracle of Tillya Tepe, the "hill of gold", a huge earthen barrow 80 miles west of Mazar-i Sharif, between the Hindu Kush mountains and the streams of the Amu Darya. Some time in the mid-first century AD, this mound was chosen by a nomadic prince as his burial kurghan. The prince himself was interred at the peak of the hill, and a horse was sacrificed and buried alongside him. In a ring around the prince's tomb were the graves of five women, probably his five wives, all of them clad in gorgeous textiles and jewellery of extraordinary splendour.

Archaeologists recovered more than 20,000 objects from these six tombs, the richest of them coming from the graves of the two women buried closest to the Tillya Tepe prince. One of these two favoured princesses was buried with a silver Chinese mirror lying on her breast; beside her were an Indian ivory comb, a gold seal with the image and name of the goddess Athena in Greek, two distinctly European cherubs riding on the backs of dolphins, and, most remarkably of all, a gold coin of the Roman emperor Tiberius, minted at Lyon in Gaul between AD14 and 37.

Who were these women? What language did they speak? The jewellery from Tillya Tepe is like nothing known from any other part of the world: Chinese, Indian, Bactrian, Siberian and Greek styles are jumbled and fused together into a glorious but baffling kaleidoscope. Many of the gold objects are studded with brilliant coloured stones, above all with turquoise. Particularly common are turquoise stones in the shape of hearts. These probably depict the ivy plant, sacred to the Scythian nomads of central Asia: in 329BC, during his expedition into the central Asian steppe, Alexander the Great saw nomadic burial mounds and trees wreathed with ivy. There are other reasons to think that the nomads of Tillya Tepe might have been Scythians – the main sources of turquoise in inner Asia lie in the hills around Mashhad, around 300 miles west of Tillya Tepe in the heart of Scythian territory in north-eastern Iran.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the finds from Tillya Tepe. Nomads are the quintessential "people without history"; the nomadic encampment normally leaves no traces for the archaeologist to recover. These burials are, effectively, our only evidence for the long nomadic interlude in Afghan history between the fall of the Greek kingdom of Bactria in around 145BC and the rise of the Kushan state in the late first century AD. And crucially, whoever these nomads may have been, they were self-evidently as cosmopolitan as they come. Here, at the intersection of three ancient Asiatic trade routes, the princesses buried at Tillya Tepe were about as isolated from the wider world as Carla Bruni.

As their jewellery clearly shows, the Tillya Tepe nomads sat at the centre of a web of cultural connections and influences stretching across thousands of miles, from the Mediterranean to the Ganges. To the south, across the high passes of the Hindu Kush, the Kabul river valley leads down towards the Khyber pass and India. North of the Oxus river, a tangle of trading routes (the "Silk Road"), stretching from Han China through Xinjiang and central Asia, had grown up over the course of the last two centuries BC. It was in northern Afghanistan, in the region of Tillya Tepe, that the Chinese silk road met the long-established caravan routes stretching west across the Iranian plateau into Mesopotamia and, ultimately, across the eastern borders of the Roman empire. Fragments of Chinese silk have been found across the Roman empire, from Palmyra in the Syrian desert to Holborough in Kent. Whichever route this silk took on its way to Europe, whether overland via Iran or by ship from India to the Roman ports on the Red Sea, it could not avoid passing through the nomadic pastures of northern Afghanistan. The gold coin of Tiberius in the princess's grave at Tillya Tepe, 3,000 miles from its mint in southern France, is just one tiny trace of this vast network linking Beijing to the shores of the Atlantic.

The nomad graves were first uncovered by a Soviet-Afghan team in the autumn of 1978. Afghanistan in the late 70s was far from the ideal place and time for a vast hoard of gold of this kind to emerge. Late in 1979, once the finds had been analysed and photographed, they were handed over to the National Museum in Kabul for safe-keeping. By the end of the year, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. In 1988, as it became clear that the Soviets were preparing to withdraw, the communist president of Afghanistan, Muhammed Najibullah, had the finds from Tillya Tepe and other sites (including Ai Khanoum and Bagram, also on display in the British Museum exhibition) crated up and sealed in the vaults of the Afghan Central Bank. This proved to be a far-sighted move. As the country slid into anarchy in the early 90s, the Kabul museum was repeatedly shelled and looted; it was during these years that the museum's tens of thousands of artefacts began to be dispersed across the world.


When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Najibullah was promptly lynched and the bank vaults searched, without success. The few museum staff who knew the location of the Tillya Tepe finds kept it to themselves, and the crates were left undisturbed throughout the period of Taliban rule. Their fate officially remained unknown until 2003, when safes beneath the presidential palace were opened by the Afghan minister of culture. Sadly, the security situation in Kabul was still so fragile that it was impossible to contemplate displaying the Tillya Tepe gold in the Kabul museum itself. Since 2006, the artefacts have been touring Europe and the United States. Few Afghans have ever had the chance to see them in their home country.

Still, the Kabul museum is at least open to visitors again. In 2009, a small exhibition, Rescued Treasures, went on display at the museum, including the pick of more than 2,000 looted Afghan artefacts impounded at Heathrow airport in 2004. The British ambassador to Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, described the purpose of the exhibition as "giving the Afghan people back that sense of cultural heritage that was so nearly taken from them". It is depressing to learn how few of these "rescued" objects actually came from the original, pre-1992 Kabul collection: most were the product of a fresh wave of looting of Afghanistan's ancient sites in the 90s and early 2000s.

Given Afghanistan's recent history, I think we ought to be a little wary about the ambassador's notion of a single Afghan "sense of cultural heritage", on the brink of being lost, but now "given back" to "the Afghan people". The Kabul museum is situated far to the south of the city centre in the Dar al-Aman district, a European-style suburb laid out by the westernising Shah Amanullah Khan in the 1920s. On the opposite side of the road from the museum lie the bombed-out ruins of Amanullah's Dar al-Aman palace, complete with Parisian arcades, neo-classical pediments and formal gardens. The juxtaposition of the two buildings is no coincidence. As in modern Iran, Afghanistan's pre-Islamic "heritage" is a sharply politicised and divisive issue. Iran's ruling Shia clerics view their pre-Islamic past with intense suspicion: the site of Persepolis, in particular, is stamped with the secular and westernising aspirations of the Shah's regime in the 1960s and 70s. Happily for Persepolis, the archaeology of ancient Persia is also central to Iranian national pride, since it proves how much older and more civilised they are than the Sunni Arabs. Afghan archaeology, while also closely associated with the secular wing of the country's urban elite, has no such useful nationalist overtones to protect it.

It is possible to over-analyse the dynamiting of the Bamiyan buddhas and the repeated vandalism of the Kabul museum. Whatever else he had in mind, Mullah Omar's actions in early 2001 had a lot to do with sticking two fingers up to the west. But there is a reason why that provocation was so effective. The Taliban were consciously and deliberately turning their back on Afghanistan's long history of engagement with China, the subcontinent and the west. The destruction of the buddhas was the crudest possible way of rejecting what they saw as a threateningly "secular" and cosmopolitan version of Afghanistan's history. Today, in a political context of de-Talibanisation, we are returning to the notion of a historically open, culturally pluralist Afghanistan – an Afghanistan which acted as a "crossroads of the ancient world" (to quote the title of the British museum exhibition). Which side will win this particular argument remains to be seen. For anyone within striking distance of London in the next four months, this really is Afghanistan as you have never seen it before.

Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World is at the British Museum, London WC1, from 3 March to 3 July 2011. www.britishmuseum.org

Source,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/feb/19/afghanistan-crossroads-exhibition-british-museum

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Labor's call: fear extremists, not migrants Kirsty Needham

February 17, 2011


THE federal government has re-embraced multiculturalism in a key speech by the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, tackling voter fear of Islamic extremism and outlining a new anti-racism strategy.

Labor's new multicultural policy was released amid accusations that the Coalition was ''stealing sound bites from One Nation'', and with the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, conceding attacks on asylum-seeker funerals had gone ''too far''.

Mr Bowen told the Sydney Institute last night it had become fashionable to blame multiculturalism for terrorism, but the Australian experience was different.

Advertisement: Story continues below ''It is right for Australians to be concerned about extremism - whether Islamic or otherwise … [but] to cast all Islamic migrants or all members of any religious group as somehow unworthy of their place in our national community … tars the many with the extremist views of the very few and does an injustice to all.''

He said it was counter-intuitive to assume that most migrants wanted to change Australia. ''Allegations of migrants wanting to come to Australia to convert the populace and turn it into a replica of their homelands ignore the truth.''

Hazaras, who make up a large percentage of asylum-seeker boat arrivals, had fled religious extremism in Afghanistan, and ''just like previous groups of migrants'' were attracted by Australia's values, he said.

Mr Bowen outlined a new policy which he said promoted social cohesion and valued diversity.

The government will appoint a 10-person multicultural council which will have a wider scope than the existing advisory body, establish a national anti-racism strategy, and reinstate the word ''multicultural'' in Kate Lundy's title of parliamentary secretary for immigration.

A youth sports program will also promote people from ethnically diverse backgrounds mixing together.

Labor's new multicultural push comes after the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said on Australia Day that he was ''reluctant to use the term'', and multiculturalism should not be reduced to an ''unrestricted licence to replicate your old culture in a new land''.

The Howard government dropped official use of the term, and the last federal multiculturalism statement was issued in 2003.

But during last year's election, Labor also shied away from a multiculturalism policy, sensitive to voter perceptions in western Sydney of special treatment for migrants, and had dropped the term from Senator Lundy's title.

Mr Bowen said last night: ''I'm not afraid to use the word multiculturalism.''

He said multiculturalism had worked and was a marker of a liberal society. Australia differed from Europe in that it was not a guest worker society, and migrants were expected to become citizens. But Australia could not accept the benefits of a diverse population and then shun the culture of migrants it had invited, or suspect they would not integrate, he said.

''If people do not feel part of society, this can lead to alienation and, ultimately, social disunity.''

Almost half (44 per cent) of Australians were born overseas or had a parent born overseas.

Mr Bowen said the government would counter extremism, and singled out sharia as inconsistent with multiculturalism. Where there is any clash between migrant cultures and the rule of law or freedom ''traditional Australian values win out'', he said.

The Australian Multicultural Advisory Council, set up by the Rudd government in 2008, recommended last year that an independent body be established to advise on a multicultural strategy.

The former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser was credited with institutionalising multiculturalism as policy, but Mr Bowen said it was uncertain it would remain ''above the fray of the daily political football match''.

Yesterday the government put the cost of flying 21 Christmas Island detainees to Sydney this week for the funerals of relatives who died in the December boat tragedy at $300,000.

Source,
http://www.smh.com.au/national/labors-call-fear-extremists-not-migrants-20110216-1awmn.html

Balkanisation of Afghanistan cuts against the grain

Shaukat Qadir

Last Updated: Feb 17, 2011


On the verge of exit from Afghanistan, the US and its allies might be tempted to leave a Balkanised version of that country in their wake. The idea, championed by Robert Blackwill, a former US ambassador to India, is seen as something of an end game, where the country is divided along ethnic lines.

A divided Afghanistan, the thinking goes, would prevent a full-scale return of the Taliban by reducing its presence to the Pashtun-dominated south and, in the process, contain the threat. The presumedly peaceful north could embark on nation-building while military operations and counter-terrorism could continue in the south. It sounds simple. But is the analysis missing something?

The logic of a divided Afghanistan is based on three premises. First, there was no such country as Afghanistan until Russia and Britain decided to create it in 1893 as a buffer between the Russian and British empires. Second, Taliban support is confined to the Pashtun-dominated south. And last, a division along ethnic lines would be acceptable to all parties.

All three premises are appealing to consider - and all three are dead wrong.

The first premise is manifestly false. In 1747, Ahmed Shah Durrani began to carve out an empire covering almost all of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Even though the Durrani empire had disintegrated by the late 19th century, the extension into the Indian sub-continent and Iran laid a regional framework tied to Afghanistan.

In fact, that political entity was only imperfectly divided by the British-imposed Durand Line in 1893, which drew an arbitrary division between Afghanistan and British India, along the border of present-day Pakistan. The political cohesion of the area was pulled apart by the Great Game rivalry between Britain and Russia, but Afghanistan has disputed the Durand Line since its creation.



The second premise of Balkanisation is also dangerously misleading. While the Taliban are entirely Pashtun, and the leader of the Quetta Shura, Mullah Mohammed Omar, hails from Kandahar in the south, neither Pashtuns nor Taliban support is confined there. Qunduz is a Pashtun-dominated region in the extreme north. The provinces of Logar, Nangarhar and Paktia immediately south and east of Kabul are Pashtun dominated. And west and north of Kabul, Jalalabad and the region bordering Pakistan is also Pashtun.

The bulk of the Hazara ethnic group lives in central Afghanistan, though they are a minority in every province. While Hazaras are almost exclusively Shiites and have often been discriminated against by Pashtun groups, predominantly Pashtun areas have historically hosted peoples of many religions including Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs and Parsis. The arrival of the Taliban, of course, changed this acceptance of this religious diversity.

Finally, the belief that Afghanistan would happily accept a state carved along ethnic divisions is also wrong. Despite the country's ethnic and religious diversity, there has always been a national character among Afghan people, who pride themselves on being Afghan first. Afghan Tajiks may dominate the region bordering Tajikistan, and Uzbeks near Uzbekistan, but they are all Afghans.



This sense of national identity has been bolstered by another factor that the Americans have perhaps overlooked. Afghans have a vested interest in a united country that can better exploit its mineral wealth and keeps intact the economic corridor that runs through Central Asia. While outsiders might not value the economic unity of the country, it should be the foundation of the country's future development. If divided, some of the constituent parts would quickly become economically inviable.

It remains to be seen what form Afghanistan will take after the United States and its allies make their exit. But that exit is on the horizon. As I have argued in previous articles, last month's visit of the US vice president Joe Biden and his return two days ago may signal a changing US strategy in the region. Mr Biden is the greatest proponent in Washington of a diminished US troop presence on the subcontinent, and his visits will be dealing with an exit strategy.

But regardless, events may outpace the Americans. The so-called Rabbani initiative, named for the Tajik veteran of the Afghan-Soviet war Burhanuddin Rabbani, proposes rapprochement with the Taliban in a framework that only includes Afghans. Obviously, that excludes America's hand from shaping the post-invasion order. Mr Rabbani made that proposal to the Pashtun jirga in Nangarhar
Just as the Americans are being pushed towards the exit, their plans for Afghanistan are becoming further irrelevant. Those who try to impose an outsider's solution on Afghanistan will be making the same mistakes of many wars past.


Brig Shaukat Qadir is a former Pakistani infantry officer

Source,
http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/balkanisation-of-afghanistan-cuts-against-the-grain?pageCount=2

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

SBIFF 2011 Winners

Best Documentary Film Awardwent to The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan,(US Premiere) directed by Phil Grabsky. Ten years in the making, this appealing documentary follows a young boy, Mir, from age 8 to 18, as he grows to adulthood with his family in rural Afghanistan. After the award-winning THE BOY WHO PLAYS ON THE BUDDHAS OF BAMIYAN (SBIFF, 2004) introduced 8-year-old Mir, the filmmakers returned to Afghanistan year after year. After the fall of the Taliban, Mir's family is at last able to leave the Bamiyan caves to return to their distant home in the desert north. It is a hardscrabble life. Mir helps to support the family, plowing and grazing the goats on seemingly leafless mountain slopes. His dreams of becoming a teacher-or even president!-are fading, but through it all he keeps his enthusiasm and his smile. THE BOY MIR: TEN YEARS IN AFGANISTAN reveals Afghanistan in the context of one family. It is a unique and poignant human-scaled portrait.

Source,
http://www.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?nid=48474

Lives intersect in 'Lipstick in Afghanistan'

Posted by Sharon Galligar Chance, Las Vegas Review-Journal guest reviewer

For Elsa Murphy, life growing up in her working-class neighborhood never has been easy, but a single swipe of lipstick could give her the confidence and courage she needs to make a difference in war-torn Afghanistan.

Roberta Gately’s debut novel, “Lipstick in Afghanistan,” is the fictionalized accounting of one woman’s unselfish devotion to her job as a nurse in a small mountain village in remote Afghanistan.

When packing for her assignment, Elsa makes sure she includes several tubes of lipstick that infuse her with poise and bravery, never dreaming that those simple tubes of color would change many lives. Elsa trained as an emergency room nurse in Boston, but nothing could have prepared her for the devastation she encounters in the small village of Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Thrust into the job of managing the small medical clinic and supervising two local doctors, Elsa soon learns to love the humble people who need her care. She makes fast friends with local resident Parween, a young widow who bonds with the American nurse over their affection for lipstick and their overwhelming desire to make things better around them. Elsa also finds a love interest in Mike, a handsome American special forces solider, who is part of the unit assigned to protect Bamiyan from the Taliban.

As the war rages around them, all three lives change through love, friendship and understanding, but all three experience tragedy as well in a beautiful land torn apart by war.

Gately tells the story of Afghanistan in two voices with this fascinating, heart-wrenching novel. She presents Elsa’s story of an impoverished child who longs to make a difference in the world after seeing a magazine story about the genocide in Rwanda. Gately also tells Parween’s story of a charming young girl who marries young, is widowed young and desperately wants to keep her family safe from the evil influences of the Taliban. As their stories intersect, readers will be enthralled with the differences and similarities between the two young women.

Source,
http://www.lvrj.com/blogs/booknook/Lives_intersect_in_Lipstick_in_Afghanistan.html?ref=644

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pt. 6 Lost.Treasures.of.Afghanistan

Pt. 5 Lost.Treasures.of.Afghanistan

Pt. 4 Lost.Treasures.of.Afghanistan

Pt. 3 Lost.Treasures.of.Afghanistan

Pt. 2 Lost.Treasures.of.Afghanistan

Pt. 1 Lost.Treasures.of.Afghanistan

Searching for Buddha in Afghanistan

An archaeologist insists a third giant statue lies near the cliffs where the Bamiyan Buddhas, destroyed in 2001, once stood

By Joshua Hammer
Photographs by Alex Masi






Clad in a safari suit, sun hat, hiking boots and leather gloves, Zemaryalai Tarzi leads the way from his tent to a rectangular pit in the Bamiyan Valley of northern Afghanistan. Crenulated sandstone cliffs, honeycombed with man-made grottoes, loom above us. Two giant cavities about a half-mile apart in the rock face mark the sites where two huge sixth-century statues of the Buddha, destroyed a decade ago by the Taliban, stood for 1,500 years. At the base of the cliff lies the inner sanctum of a site Tarzi calls the Royal Monastery, an elaborate complex erected during the third century that contains corridors, esplanades and chambers where sacred objects were stored.

"We're looking at what used to be a chapel covered with murals," the 71-year-old archaeologist, peering into the pit, tells me. Rulers of the Buddhist kingdom—whose religion had taken root across the region along the Silk Road—made annual pilgrimages here to offer donations to the monks in return for their blessings. Then, in the eighth century, Islam came to the valley, and Buddhism began to wane. "In the third quarter of the ninth century, a Muslim conqueror destroyed everything—including the monastery," Tarzi says. "He gave Bamiyan the coup de grâce, but he couldn't destroy the giant Buddhas." Tarzi gazes toward the two empty niches, the one to the east 144 feet high and the one to the west 213 feet high. "It took the Taliban to do that."

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved out of the cliff's malleable rock, long presided over this peaceful valley, protected by its near impregnable position between the Hindu Kush mountains to the north and the Koh-i-Baba range to the south. The monumental figures survived the coming of Islam, the scourge of Muslim conqueror Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, the invasion and annihilation of virtually the entire Bamiyan population by Mongol warriors led by Genghis Khan in A.D. 1221 and the British-Afghan wars of the 19th century. But they couldn't survive the development of modern weaponry or a fanatical brand of Islam that gained ascendancy in Afghanistan following the war between the Soviet Union and the mujahedeen in the 1980s: almost ten years ago, in March 2001, after being denounced by Taliban fanatics as "false idols," the statues were pulverized with high explosives and rocket fire. It was an act that generated worldwide outrage and endures as a symbol of mindless desecration and religious extremism.

From almost the first moment the Taliban were driven from power at the end of 2001, art historians, conservationists and others have dreamed of restoring the Buddhas. Tarzi, however, has another idea. Somewhere in the shadow of the niches, he believes, lies a third Buddha—a 1,000-foot-long reclining colossus built at roughly the same time as the standing giants. His belief is based on a description written 1,400 years ago by a Chinese monk, Xuanzang, who visited the kingdom for several weeks. Tarzi has spent seven years probing the ground beneath the niches in search of the fabled statue. He has uncovered seven monasteries, fragments of a 62-foot-long reclining Buddha and many pieces of pottery and other Buddhist relics.

But other scholars say the Chinese monk may have mistaken a rock formation for the sculpture or was confused about the Buddha's location. Even if the reclining Buddha once existed, some hypothesize that it crumbled into dust centuries ago. "The Nirvana Buddha"—so called because the sleeping Buddha is depicted as he was about to enter the transcendent state of Nirvana—"remains one of archaeology's greatest mysteries," says Kazuya Yamauchi, an archaeologist with the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation, who has carried out his own search for it. "It is the dream of archaeologists to find it."

Time may be running out. Ever since U.S., coalition and Afghan Northern Alliance forces pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan, remote Bamiyan—dominated by ethnic Hazaras who defied the Pashtun-dominated Taliban regime and suffered massacres at their hands—has been an oasis of tranquillity. But this past August, insurgents, likely Taliban, ambushed and killed a New Zealand soldier in northern Bamiyan—the first killing of a soldier in the province since the beginning of the war. "If the Taliban grows stronger elsewhere in Afghanistan, they could enter Bamiyan from different directions," says Habiba Sarabi, governor of Bamiyan province and the country's sole female provincial leader. Residents of Bamiyan—as well as archaeologists and conservationists—have lately been voicing the fear that even if new, reconstructed Buddhas rise in the niches, the Taliban would only blow them up again.

To visit Tarzi on his annual seven-week summer dig in Bamiyan, the photographer Alex Masi and I left Kabul at dawn in a Land Cruiser for a 140-mile, eight-hour journey on a dirt road on which an improvised explosive device had struck a U.N. convoy only days before. The first three hours, through Pashtun territory, were the riskiest. We drove without stopping, slumped low in our seats, wary of being recognized as foreigners. After snaking through a fertile river valley hemmed in by jagged granite and basalt peaks, we arrived at a suspension bridge marking the start of Hazara territory. "The security situation is now fine," our driver told us. "You can relax."

At the opening of the Bamiyan Valley, we passed a 19th-century mud fort and an asphalt road, part of a $200 million network under construction by the U.S. government and the Asian Development Bank. Then the valley widened to reveal a scene of breathtaking beauty: golden fields of wheat, interspersed with green plots of potato and bordered by the snowcapped, 18,000-foot peaks of the Hindu Kush and stark sandstone cliffs to the north. Finally we came over a rise and got our first look at the gaping cavities where the giant Buddhas once stood.

The vista was probably not much different from that which greeted Xuanzang, the monk who had left his home in eastern China in A.D. 629 and followed the Silk Road west across the Taklamakan Desert, arriving in Bamiyan several years later. Xuanzang was welcomed into a prosperous Buddhist enclave that had existed for some 500 years. There, cut from the cliffs, stood the greatest of the kingdom's symbols: a 180-foot-tall western Buddha and its smaller 125-foot-tall eastern counterpart—both gilded, decorated with lapis lazuli and surrounded by colorful frescoes depicting the heavens. The statues wore masks of wood and clay that in the moonlight conveyed the impression of glowing eyes, perhaps because they were embedded with rubies. Their bodies were draped in stucco tunics of a style worn by soldiers of Alexander the Great, who had passed through the region on his march to the Khyber Pass almost 1,000 years before. "[Their] golden hues sparkle on every side, and [their] precious ornaments dazzle the eyes by their brightness," wrote Xuanzang.

A member of a branch of Afghanistan's royal family, Tarzi first visited the Buddhas as an archaeology student in 1967. (He would earn a degree from the University of Strasbourg, in France, and become a prominent art historian and archaeologist in Kabul.) During the next decade, he returned to Bamiyan repeatedly to survey restoration work; the masks and some of the stucco garments had eroded away or been looted centuries earlier; the Buddhas were also crumbling.

"I visited every square inch of Bamiyan," he told me. It was during this time, he said, that he became convinced, based on Xuanzang's description, of the existence of a third Buddha. The monk mentioned a second monastery, in addition to the Royal Monastery, which is near the western Buddha. Inside it, he wrote, "there is a figure of Buddha lying in a sleeping position, as when he attained Nirvana. The figure is in length about 1,000 feet or so."

In 1978, a coup led by radical Marxists assassinated Afghanistan's first president; Tarzi's search for the sleeping Buddha was put on hold. Believing his life was in danger, Tarzi fled the country. "I left for Paris and became a refugee," he told me. He worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Strasbourg, married twice and had three children—daughters Nadia and Carole, and son David. Tarzi began teaching archaeology and became a full professor at the University of Strasbourg.

Back in Bamiyan, trouble was brewing. After several failed attempts to conquer the province, Taliban forces cut deals with Tajik and Hazara military leaders and marched in unopposed in September 1998. Many Hazara fled just ahead of the occupation. My interpreter, Ali Raza, a 26-year-old Hazara who grew up in the shadow of the eastern Buddha and played among the giant statues as a child, remembers his father calling the family together one afternoon. "He said, 'You must collect your clothes; we have to move as soon as possible, because the Taliban have arrived. If they don't kill us, we will be lucky.'" They gathered their mules and set out on foot, hiking south over snowy mountain passes to neighboring Maidan Wardak province; Raza later fled to Iran. The family didn't return home for five years.

In February 2001, Al Qaeda-supporting Taliban radicals, having won a power struggle with moderates, condemned the Buddhas as "idolatrous" and "un-Islamic" and announced their intention to destroy them. Last-ditch pleas by world leaders to Mullah Omar, the Taliban's reclusive, one-eyed leader, failed. During the next month, the Taliban—with the help of Arab munitions experts—used artillery shells and high explosives to destroy both figures. A Hazara construction worker I'll call Abdul, whom I met outside an unfinished mosque in the hills above Bamiyan, told me that the Taliban had conscripted him and 30 other Hazaras to lay plastic explosives on the ground beneath the larger Buddha's feet. It took three weeks to bring down the statue, Abdul told me. Then "the Taliban celebrated by slaughtering nine cows." Koichiro Matsuura, the head of UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural organization, declared it "abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of...the whole of humanity." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deemed it a "tragedy."

Tarzi was in Strasbourg when he heard the news. "I watched it on television, and I said, 'This is not possible. Lamentable,'" he said.

Over lunch in the house he rents each summer in Bamiyan, he recounted the campaign he waged to return to Afghanistan after U.S. Special Forces and the Northern Alliance drove Osama bin Laden's protectors from power. In 2002, with the help of acquaintances such as the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tarzi persuaded the French government to give him funding (it has ranged from the equivalent of $40,000 to $50,000 a year) to search for the third Buddha. He flew to Bamiyan in July of that year and announced to a fiercely territorial warlord who had taken charge of the area that he planned to begin excavations. Tarzi was ordered to leave at once. "There was no real government in place, and I had nothing in writing. [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai wasn't aware of the mission. So I went back to France." The following year, Tarzi returned to Kabul, where Karzai received him warmly and gave a personal guarantee of safe passage.

Clad in a safari suit, sun hat, hiking boots and leather gloves, Zemaryalai Tarzi leads the way from his tent to a rectangular pit in the Bamiyan Valley of northern Afghanistan. Crenulated sandstone cliffs, honeycombed with man-made grottoes, loom above us. Two giant cavities about a half-mile apart in the rock face mark the sites where two huge sixth-century statues of the Buddha, destroyed a decade ago by the Taliban, stood for 1,500 years. At the base of the cliff lies the inner sanctum of a site Tarzi calls the Royal Monastery, an elaborate complex erected during the third century that contains corridors, esplanades and chambers where sacred objects were stored.

"We're looking at what used to be a chapel covered with murals," the 71-year-old archaeologist, peering into the pit, tells me. Rulers of the Buddhist kingdom—whose religion had taken root across the region along the Silk Road—made annual pilgrimages here to offer donations to the monks in return for their blessings. Then, in the eighth century, Islam came to the valley, and Buddhism began to wane. "In the third quarter of the ninth century, a Muslim conqueror destroyed everything—including the monastery," Tarzi says. "He gave Bamiyan the coup de grâce, but he couldn't destroy the giant Buddhas." Tarzi gazes toward the two empty niches, the one to the east 144 feet high and the one to the west 213 feet high. "It took the Taliban to do that."

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved out of the cliff's malleable rock, long presided over this peaceful valley, protected by its near impregnable position between the Hindu Kush mountains to the north and the Koh-i-Baba range to the south. The monumental figures survived the coming of Islam, the scourge of Muslim conqueror Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, the invasion and annihilation of virtually the entire Bamiyan population by Mongol warriors led by Genghis Khan in A.D. 1221 and the British-Afghan wars of the 19th century. But they couldn't survive the development of modern weaponry or a fanatical brand of Islam that gained ascendancy in Afghanistan following the war between the Soviet Union and the mujahedeen in the 1980s: almost ten years ago, in March 2001, after being denounced by Taliban fanatics as "false idols," the statues were pulverized with high explosives and rocket fire. It was an act that generated worldwide outrage and endures as a symbol of mindless desecration and religious extremism.

From almost the first moment the Taliban were driven from power at the end of 2001, art historians, conservationists and others have dreamed of restoring the Buddhas. Tarzi, however, has another idea. Somewhere in the shadow of the niches, he believes, lies a third Buddha—a 1,000-foot-long reclining colossus built at roughly the same time as the standing giants. His belief is based on a description written 1,400 years ago by a Chinese monk, Xuanzang, who visited the kingdom for several weeks. Tarzi has spent seven years probing the ground beneath the niches in search of the fabled statue. He has uncovered seven monasteries, fragments of a 62-foot-long reclining Buddha and many pieces of pottery and other Buddhist relics.

But other scholars say the Chinese monk may have mistaken a rock formation for the sculpture or was confused about the Buddha's location. Even if the reclining Buddha once existed, some hypothesize that it crumbled into dust centuries ago. "The Nirvana Buddha"—so called because the sleeping Buddha is depicted as he was about to enter the transcendent state of Nirvana—"remains one of archaeology's greatest mysteries," says Kazuya Yamauchi, an archaeologist with the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation, who has carried out his own search for it. "It is the dream of archaeologists to find it."

Time may be running out. Ever since U.S., coalition and Afghan Northern Alliance forces pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan, remote Bamiyan—dominated by ethnic Hazaras who defied the Pashtun-dominated Taliban regime and suffered massacres at their hands—has been an oasis of tranquillity. But this past August, insurgents, likely Taliban, ambushed and killed a New Zealand soldier in northern Bamiyan—the first killing of a soldier in the province since the beginning of the war. "If the Taliban grows stronger elsewhere in Afghanistan, they could enter Bamiyan from different directions," says Habiba Sarabi, governor of Bamiyan province and the country's sole female provincial leader. Residents of Bamiyan—as well as archaeologists and conservationists—have lately been voicing the fear that even if new, reconstructed Buddhas rise in the niches, the Taliban would only blow them up again.

To visit Tarzi on his annual seven-week summer dig in Bamiyan, the photographer Alex Masi and I left Kabul at dawn in a Land Cruiser for a 140-mile, eight-hour journey on a dirt road on which an improvised explosive device had struck a U.N. convoy only days before. The first three hours, through Pashtun territory, were the riskiest. We drove without stopping, slumped low in our seats, wary of being recognized as foreigners. After snaking through a fertile river valley hemmed in by jagged granite and basalt peaks, we arrived at a suspension bridge marking the start of Hazara territory. "The security situation is now fine," our driver told us. "You can relax."

At the opening of the Bamiyan Valley, we passed a 19th-century mud fort and an asphalt road, part of a $200 million network under construction by the U.S. government and the Asian Development Bank. Then the valley widened to reveal a scene of breathtaking beauty: golden fields of wheat, interspersed with green plots of potato and bordered by the snowcapped, 18,000-foot peaks of the Hindu Kush and stark sandstone cliffs to the north. Finally we came over a rise and got our first look at the gaping cavities where the giant Buddhas once stood.

The vista was probably not much different from that which greeted Xuanzang, the monk who had left his home in eastern China in A.D. 629 and followed the Silk Road west across the Taklamakan Desert, arriving in Bamiyan several years later. Xuanzang was welcomed into a prosperous Buddhist enclave that had existed for some 500 years. There, cut from the cliffs, stood the greatest of the kingdom's symbols: a 180-foot-tall western Buddha and its smaller 125-foot-tall eastern counterpart—both gilded, decorated with lapis lazuli and surrounded by colorful frescoes depicting the heavens. The statues wore masks of wood and clay that in the moonlight conveyed the impression of glowing eyes, perhaps because they were embedded with rubies. Their bodies were draped in stucco tunics of a style worn by soldiers of Alexander the Great, who had passed through the region on his march to the Khyber Pass almost 1,000 years before. "[Their] golden hues sparkle on every side, and [their] precious ornaments dazzle the eyes by their brightness," wrote Xuanzang.

A member of a branch of Afghanistan's royal family, Tarzi first visited the Buddhas as an archaeology student in 1967. (He would earn a degree from the University of Strasbourg, in France, and become a prominent art historian and archaeologist in Kabul.) During the next decade, he returned to Bamiyan repeatedly to survey restoration work; the masks and some of the stucco garments had eroded away or been looted centuries earlier; the Buddhas were also crumbling.

"I visited every square inch of Bamiyan," he told me. It was during this time, he said, that he became convinced, based on Xuanzang's description, of the existence of a third Buddha. The monk mentioned a second monastery, in addition to the Royal Monastery, which is near the western Buddha. Inside it, he wrote, "there is a figure of Buddha lying in a sleeping position, as when he attained Nirvana. The figure is in length about 1,000 feet or so."

In 1978, a coup led by radical Marxists assassinated Afghanistan's first president; Tarzi's search for the sleeping Buddha was put on hold. Believing his life was in danger, Tarzi fled the country. "I left for Paris and became a refugee," he told me. He worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Strasbourg, married twice and had three children—daughters Nadia and Carole, and son David. Tarzi began teaching archaeology and became a full professor at the University of Strasbourg.

Back in Bamiyan, trouble was brewing. After several failed attempts to conquer the province, Taliban forces cut deals with Tajik and Hazara military leaders and marched in unopposed in September 1998. Many Hazara fled just ahead of the occupation. My interpreter, Ali Raza, a 26-year-old Hazara who grew up in the shadow of the eastern Buddha and played among the giant statues as a child, remembers his father calling the family together one afternoon. "He said, 'You must collect your clothes; we have to move as soon as possible, because the Taliban have arrived. If they don't kill us, we will be lucky.'" They gathered their mules and set out on foot, hiking south over snowy mountain passes to neighboring Maidan Wardak province; Raza later fled to Iran. The family didn't return home for five years.

In February 2001, Al Qaeda-supporting Taliban radicals, having won a power struggle with moderates, condemned the Buddhas as "idolatrous" and "un-Islamic" and announced their intention to destroy them. Last-ditch pleas by world leaders to Mullah Omar, the Taliban's reclusive, one-eyed leader, failed. During the next month, the Taliban—with the help of Arab munitions experts—used artillery shells and high explosives to destroy both figures. A Hazara construction worker I'll call Abdul, whom I met outside an unfinished mosque in the hills above Bamiyan, told me that the Taliban had conscripted him and 30 other Hazaras to lay plastic explosives on the ground beneath the larger Buddha's feet. It took three weeks to bring down the statue, Abdul told me. Then "the Taliban celebrated by slaughtering nine cows." Koichiro Matsuura, the head of UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural organization, declared it "abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of...the whole of humanity." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deemed it a "tragedy."

Tarzi was in Strasbourg when he heard the news. "I watched it on television, and I said, 'This is not possible. Lamentable,'" he said.

Over lunch in the house he rents each summer in Bamiyan, he recounted the campaign he waged to return to Afghanistan after U.S. Special Forces and the Northern Alliance drove Osama bin Laden's protectors from power. In 2002, with the help of acquaintances such as the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tarzi persuaded the French government to give him funding (it has ranged from the equivalent of $40,000 to $50,000 a year) to search for the third Buddha. He flew to Bamiyan in July of that year and announced to a fiercely territorial warlord who had taken charge of the area that he planned to begin excavations. Tarzi was ordered to leave at once. "There was no real government in place, and I had nothing in writing. [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai wasn't aware of the mission. So I went back to France." The following year, Tarzi returned to Kabul, where Karzai received him warmly and gave a personal guarantee of safe passage.

One morning, I joined Tarzi in a tent beside the excavation site; we walked along a gully where some digging was going on. During his first excavation, in 2003, he told me with a touch of bravado, "The valley was filled with mines, but I wasn't afraid. I said, 'Follow me, and if I explode, you can take a different route.' And I took out a lot of mines myself, before the de-mining teams came here." Tarzi stopped before a second excavation pit and called to one of his diggers, a thin, bearded Hazara man who walked with a slight limp. The man, Tarzi told me, had lost both legs to a mine five years ago. "He was blown up just above where we're standing now, next to the giant Buddha," he added, as I shifted nervously. "We fitted him with prostheses, and he went back to work."

The archaeologist and I climbed into a minibus and drove to a second excavation site, just below the eastern niche where the smaller Buddha stood. He halted before the ruins of a seventh-century stupa, or relic chamber, a heap of clay and conglomerate rock. "This is where we started digging back in 2003, because the stupa was already exposed," Tarzi said. "It corresponded with Xuanzang's description, 'east of the Royal Monastery.' I thought at the beginning that the Buddha would be lying here, underneath the wheat fields. So I dug here, and I found a lot of ceramics, sculptures, but no Buddha."

Tarzi now gazed at the stupa with dismay. The 1,400-year-old ruin was covered with socks, shirts, pants and underwear, laundry laid out to dry by families living in nearby grottoes. "Please take a picture of the laundry drying on top of my stupa," he told one of the five University of Strasbourg graduate students who had joined him for the summer. Tarzi turned toward the cliff face, scanning the rough ground at its base. "If the great Buddha exists," he said, "it's there, at the foot of the great cliffs."

Not everyone is convinced. To be sure, Xuanzang's account is widely accepted. "He was remarkably accurate," says Nancy Dupree, an American expert on Afghan art and culture who has lived in Kabul for five decades. "The fact that he mentioned it means that there must have been something there." Kosaku Maeda, a retired professor of archaeology in Tokyo and one of the world's leading experts on the Bamiyan Valley, agrees that the monk probably did see a Sleeping Buddha. But Maeda believes that the figure, which was likely made of clay, would have crumbled into dust centuries ago. "If you think of a 1,000-foot-long reclining Buddha, then it would require 100 to 130 feet in height," he said. "You should see such a hill. But there is nothing." Kazuya Yamauchi, the Japanese archaeologist, believes Xuanzang's description of the figure's location is ambiguous. He contends it lies in a different part of the valley, Shari-i-Gholghola, or the "City of Screams," where the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan massacred thousands of inhabitants.

A short while after my outing with Tarzi, I climbed up some rickety metal scaffolding inside the eastern niche with Bert Praxenthaler, a Munich-based art historian and sculptor from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a nongovernmental organization that receives UNESCO funding to shore up the niche walls, which were badly damaged by the Taliban blasts. In one of his first visits here some years ago, Praxenthaler recalls, he was rappelling inside the niche when he realized it was about to cave in. "It is just mud and pebbles baked together over millions of years," he said. "It lacks a natural cement, so the stone is rather weak. One slight earthquake would have destroyed everything." Praxenthaler and his team pumped 20 tons of mortar into cracks and fissures in the niche, then drilled dozens of long steel rods into the walls to support it."They are now stable," he said. Pointing to some faint smudges on the rough wall, he added: "You can see traces of the fingers of Buddhist workers, from 1,500 years ago." Praxenthaler's work led him to some serendipitous discoveries, including a tiny fabric bag—"closed with rope and sealed with two stamps"—concealed in a crevice behind the giant Buddha at the time it was constructed. "We still haven't opened it yet," he told me. "We think there is a Buddhist relic inside." (Praxenthaler is organizing a research project that will examine the presumably fragile contents.)

Preservation of the niches—work on the western one is scheduled to begin soon—is the first step, Praxenthaler said, in what many hope will be the reconstitution of the destroyed statues. During the past decade, conservationists, artists and others have floated many proposals, ranging from constructing concrete replicas to leaving the niches empty. Hiro Yamagata, a Japanese artist based in California, suggested that laser images of the Buddhas be projected onto the cliff face—an idea later abandoned as too costly and impractical.

For his part, Praxenthaler supports a method known as anastylosis, which involves combining surviving pieces of the Buddhas with modern materials. "It would be a fragmented Buddha, with gaps and holes, and later, they could fill in the gaps in a suitable way," he said. This approach has gathered strong backing from Governor Sarabi, as well as from archaeologists and art conservators, but it may not be feasible: most of the original Buddhas were pulverized, leaving only a few recognizable fragments. In addition, few Afghan officials think it politically wise, given the Islamic fervor and xenophobic sentiment of much of the country, especially among the Pashtun, to embrace a project celebrating the country's Buddhist past. "Conservation is OK, but at the moment they are critical about what smells like rebuilding the Buddha," Praxenthaler said. Others, including Tarzi, believe the niches should remain empty. New Buddhas, says Nancy Dupree, would turn Bamiyan into "an amusement park, and it would be a desecration to the artists who created the originals. The empty niches have a poignancy all their own." Tarzi agrees. "Leave the two Buddha niches as two pages of history," he told me, "so that future generations will know that at a certain moment, folly triumphed over reason in Afghanistan."

The funding that Tarzi currently gets from the French government allows him and his graduate students to fly from Strasbourg to Bamiyan each July, pay the rent on his house and employ guards and a digging team. He says he has been under no pressure to hasten his search, but the longer the work continues, the greater the likelihood his benefactors will run out of patience. "I've discovered sculptures, I've discovered the stupa, I've discovered the monasteries, I've developed a panorama of Bamiyan civilization from the first century to the arrival of Genghis Khan," he says. "The scientific results have been good."

Tarzi also continues to enjoy support from Afghan officials and many of his peers. "Tarzi is a well-educated, experienced Afghan archaeologist, and we need as many of those as we can get," says Brendan Cassar, the Kabul-based cultural specialist for UNESCO, which declared Bamiyan a World Heritage site in 2003. Nancy Dupree told me that Tarzi "wants to return something to Afghans to bolster their confidence and their belief [in the power of] their heritage. It's more than archaeology for him." But his ultimate goal, she fears, may never be realized. "What he has done is not to be sniffed at, he's found things there, but whether he will find the reclining Buddha, I really doubt."

After seven years of searching, even Tarzi has begun to hedge his bets. "I still have hope," he told me as we walked through irrigated fields of potatoes at the edge of his eastern excavations. "But I'm getting older—and weaker. Another three years, then I'll be finished."

Joshua Hammer reports from his base in Berlin. Photographer Alex Masi travels the world on assignment from London.
One morning, I joined Tarzi in a tent beside the excavation site; we walked along a gully where some digging was going on. During his first excavation, in 2003, he told me with a touch of bravado, "The valley was filled with mines, but I wasn't afraid. I said, 'Follow me, and if I explode, you can take a different route.' And I took out a lot of mines myself, before the de-mining teams came here." Tarzi stopped before a second excavation pit and called to one of his diggers, a thin, bearded Hazara man who walked with a slight limp. The man, Tarzi told me, had lost both legs to a mine five years ago. "He was blown up just above where we're standing now, next to the giant Buddha," he added, as I shifted nervously. "We fitted him with prostheses, and he went back to work."

The archaeologist and I climbed into a minibus and drove to a second excavation site, just below the eastern niche where the smaller Buddha stood. He halted before the ruins of a seventh-century stupa, or relic chamber, a heap of clay and conglomerate rock. "This is where we started digging back in 2003, because the stupa was already exposed," Tarzi said. "It corresponded with Xuanzang's description, 'east of the Royal Monastery.' I thought at the beginning that the Buddha would be lying here, underneath the wheat fields. So I dug here, and I found a lot of ceramics, sculptures, but no Buddha."

Tarzi now gazed at the stupa with dismay. The 1,400-year-old ruin was covered with socks, shirts, pants and underwear, laundry laid out to dry by families living in nearby grottoes. "Please take a picture of the laundry drying on top of my stupa," he told one of the five University of Strasbourg graduate students who had joined him for the summer. Tarzi turned toward the cliff face, scanning the rough ground at its base. "If the great Buddha exists," he said, "it's there, at the foot of the great cliffs."

Not everyone is convinced. To be sure, Xuanzang's account is widely accepted. "He was remarkably accurate," says Nancy Dupree, an American expert on Afghan art and culture who has lived in Kabul for five decades. "The fact that he mentioned it means that there must have been something there." Kosaku Maeda, a retired professor of archaeology in Tokyo and one of the world's leading experts on the Bamiyan Valley, agrees that the monk probably did see a Sleeping Buddha. But Maeda believes that the figure, which was likely made of clay, would have crumbled into dust centuries ago. "If you think of a 1,000-foot-long reclining Buddha, then it would require 100 to 130 feet in height," he said. "You should see such a hill. But there is nothing." Kazuya Yamauchi, the Japanese archaeologist, believes Xuanzang's description of the figure's location is ambiguous. He contends it lies in a different part of the valley, Shari-i-Gholghola, or the "City of Screams," where the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan massacred thousands of inhabitants.

A short while after my outing with Tarzi, I climbed up some rickety metal scaffolding inside the eastern niche with Bert Praxenthaler, a Munich-based art historian and sculptor from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a nongovernmental organization that receives UNESCO funding to shore up the niche walls, which were badly damaged by the Taliban blasts. In one of his first visits here some years ago, Praxenthaler recalls, he was rappelling inside the niche when he realized it was about to cave in. "It is just mud and pebbles baked together over millions of years," he said. "It lacks a natural cement, so the stone is rather weak. One slight earthquake would have destroyed everything." Praxenthaler and his team pumped 20 tons of mortar into cracks and fissures in the niche, then drilled dozens of long steel rods into the walls to support it."They are now stable," he said. Pointing to some faint smudges on the rough wall, he added: "You can see traces of the fingers of Buddhist workers, from 1,500 years ago." Praxenthaler's work led him to some serendipitous discoveries, including a tiny fabric bag—"closed with rope and sealed with two stamps"—concealed in a crevice behind the giant Buddha at the time it was constructed. "We still haven't opened it yet," he told me. "We think there is a Buddhist relic inside." (Praxenthaler is organizing a research project that will examine the presumably fragile contents.)

Preservation of the niches—work on the western one is scheduled to begin soon—is the first step, Praxenthaler said, in what many hope will be the reconstitution of the destroyed statues. During the past decade, conservationists, artists and others have floated many proposals, ranging from constructing concrete replicas to leaving the niches empty. Hiro Yamagata, a Japanese artist based in California, suggested that laser images of the Buddhas be projected onto the cliff face—an idea later abandoned as too costly and impractical.

For his part, Praxenthaler supports a method known as anastylosis, which involves combining surviving pieces of the Buddhas with modern materials. "It would be a fragmented Buddha, with gaps and holes, and later, they could fill in the gaps in a suitable way," he said. This approach has gathered strong backing from Governor Sarabi, as well as from archaeologists and art conservators, but it may not be feasible: most of the original Buddhas were pulverized, leaving only a few recognizable fragments. In addition, few Afghan officials think it politically wise, given the Islamic fervor and xenophobic sentiment of much of the country, especially among the Pashtun, to embrace a project celebrating the country's Buddhist past. "Conservation is OK, but at the moment they are critical about what smells like rebuilding the Buddha," Praxenthaler said. Others, including Tarzi, believe the niches should remain empty. New Buddhas, says Nancy Dupree, would turn Bamiyan into "an amusement park, and it would be a desecration to the artists who created the originals. The empty niches have a poignancy all their own." Tarzi agrees. "Leave the two Buddha niches as two pages of history," he told me, "so that future generations will know that at a certain moment, folly triumphed over reason in Afghanistan."

The funding that Tarzi currently gets from the French government allows him and his graduate students to fly from Strasbourg to Bamiyan each July, pay the rent on his house and employ guards and a digging team. He says he has been under no pressure to hasten his search, but the longer the work continues, the greater the likelihood his benefactors will run out of patience. "I've discovered sculptures, I've discovered the stupa, I've discovered the monasteries, I've developed a panorama of Bamiyan civilization from the first century to the arrival of Genghis Khan," he says. "The scientific results have been good."

Clad in a safari suit, sun hat, hiking boots and leather gloves, Zemaryalai Tarzi leads the way from his tent to a rectangular pit in the Bamiyan Valley of northern Afghanistan. Crenulated sandstone cliffs, honeycombed with man-made grottoes, loom above us. Two giant cavities about a half-mile apart in the rock face mark the sites where two huge sixth-century statues of the Buddha, destroyed a decade ago by the Taliban, stood for 1,500 years. At the base of the cliff lies the inner sanctum of a site Tarzi calls the Royal Monastery, an elaborate complex erected during the third century that contains corridors, esplanades and chambers where sacred objects were stored.

"We're looking at what used to be a chapel covered with murals," the 71-year-old archaeologist, peering into the pit, tells me. Rulers of the Buddhist kingdom—whose religion had taken root across the region along the Silk Road—made annual pilgrimages here to offer donations to the monks in return for their blessings. Then, in the eighth century, Islam came to the valley, and Buddhism began to wane. "In the third quarter of the ninth century, a Muslim conqueror destroyed everything—including the monastery," Tarzi says. "He gave Bamiyan the coup de grâce, but he couldn't destroy the giant Buddhas." Tarzi gazes toward the two empty niches, the one to the east 144 feet high and the one to the west 213 feet high. "It took the Taliban to do that."

The Buddhas of Bamiyan, carved out of the cliff's malleable rock, long presided over this peaceful valley, protected by its near impregnable position between the Hindu Kush mountains to the north and the Koh-i-Baba range to the south. The monumental figures survived the coming of Islam, the scourge of Muslim conqueror Yaqub ibn Layth Saffari, the invasion and annihilation of virtually the entire Bamiyan population by Mongol warriors led by Genghis Khan in A.D. 1221 and the British-Afghan wars of the 19th century. But they couldn't survive the development of modern weaponry or a fanatical brand of Islam that gained ascendancy in Afghanistan following the war between the Soviet Union and the mujahedeen in the 1980s: almost ten years ago, in March 2001, after being denounced by Taliban fanatics as "false idols," the statues were pulverized with high explosives and rocket fire. It was an act that generated worldwide outrage and endures as a symbol of mindless desecration and religious extremism.

From almost the first moment the Taliban were driven from power at the end of 2001, art historians, conservationists and others have dreamed of restoring the Buddhas. Tarzi, however, has another idea. Somewhere in the shadow of the niches, he believes, lies a third Buddha—a 1,000-foot-long reclining colossus built at roughly the same time as the standing giants. His belief is based on a description written 1,400 years ago by a Chinese monk, Xuanzang, who visited the kingdom for several weeks. Tarzi has spent seven years probing the ground beneath the niches in search of the fabled statue. He has uncovered seven monasteries, fragments of a 62-foot-long reclining Buddha and many pieces of pottery and other Buddhist relics.

But other scholars say the Chinese monk may have mistaken a rock formation for the sculpture or was confused about the Buddha's location. Even if the reclining Buddha once existed, some hypothesize that it crumbled into dust centuries ago. "The Nirvana Buddha"—so called because the sleeping Buddha is depicted as he was about to enter the transcendent state of Nirvana—"remains one of archaeology's greatest mysteries," says Kazuya Yamauchi, an archaeologist with the Japan Center for International Cooperation in Conservation, who has carried out his own search for it. "It is the dream of archaeologists to find it."

Time may be running out. Ever since U.S., coalition and Afghan Northern Alliance forces pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan, remote Bamiyan—dominated by ethnic Hazaras who defied the Pashtun-dominated Taliban regime and suffered massacres at their hands—has been an oasis of tranquillity. But this past August, insurgents, likely Taliban, ambushed and killed a New Zealand soldier in northern Bamiyan—the first killing of a soldier in the province since the beginning of the war. "If the Taliban grows stronger elsewhere in Afghanistan, they could enter Bamiyan from different directions," says Habiba Sarabi, governor of Bamiyan province and the country's sole female provincial leader. Residents of Bamiyan—as well as archaeologists and conservationists—have lately been voicing the fear that even if new, reconstructed Buddhas rise in the niches, the Taliban would only blow them up again.

To visit Tarzi on his annual seven-week summer dig in Bamiyan, the photographer Alex Masi and I left Kabul at dawn in a Land Cruiser for a 140-mile, eight-hour journey on a dirt road on which an improvised explosive device had struck a U.N. convoy only days before. The first three hours, through Pashtun territory, were the riskiest. We drove without stopping, slumped low in our seats, wary of being recognized as foreigners. After snaking through a fertile river valley hemmed in by jagged granite and basalt peaks, we arrived at a suspension bridge marking the start of Hazara territory. "The security situation is now fine," our driver told us. "You can relax."

At the opening of the Bamiyan Valley, we passed a 19th-century mud fort and an asphalt road, part of a $200 million network under construction by the U.S. government and the Asian Development Bank. Then the valley widened to reveal a scene of breathtaking beauty: golden fields of wheat, interspersed with green plots of potato and bordered by the snowcapped, 18,000-foot peaks of the Hindu Kush and stark sandstone cliffs to the north. Finally we came over a rise and got our first look at the gaping cavities where the giant Buddhas once stood.

The vista was probably not much different from that which greeted Xuanzang, the monk who had left his home in eastern China in A.D. 629 and followed the Silk Road west across the Taklamakan Desert, arriving in Bamiyan several years later. Xuanzang was welcomed into a prosperous Buddhist enclave that had existed for some 500 years. There, cut from the cliffs, stood the greatest of the kingdom's symbols: a 180-foot-tall western Buddha and its smaller 125-foot-tall eastern counterpart—both gilded, decorated with lapis lazuli and surrounded by colorful frescoes depicting the heavens. The statues wore masks of wood and clay that in the moonlight conveyed the impression of glowing eyes, perhaps because they were embedded with rubies. Their bodies were draped in stucco tunics of a style worn by soldiers of Alexander the Great, who had passed through the region on his march to the Khyber Pass almost 1,000 years before. "[Their] golden hues sparkle on every side, and [their] precious ornaments dazzle the eyes by their brightness," wrote Xuanzang.

A member of a branch of Afghanistan's royal family, Tarzi first visited the Buddhas as an archaeology student in 1967. (He would earn a degree from the University of Strasbourg, in France, and become a prominent art historian and archaeologist in Kabul.) During the next decade, he returned to Bamiyan repeatedly to survey restoration work; the masks and some of the stucco garments had eroded away or been looted centuries earlier; the Buddhas were also crumbling.

"I visited every square inch of Bamiyan," he told me. It was during this time, he said, that he became convinced, based on Xuanzang's description, of the existence of a third Buddha. The monk mentioned a second monastery, in addition to the Royal Monastery, which is near the western Buddha. Inside it, he wrote, "there is a figure of Buddha lying in a sleeping position, as when he attained Nirvana. The figure is in length about 1,000 feet or so."

In 1978, a coup led by radical Marxists assassinated Afghanistan's first president; Tarzi's search for the sleeping Buddha was put on hold. Believing his life was in danger, Tarzi fled the country. "I left for Paris and became a refugee," he told me. He worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Strasbourg, married twice and had three children—daughters Nadia and Carole, and son David. Tarzi began teaching archaeology and became a full professor at the University of Strasbourg.

Back in Bamiyan, trouble was brewing. After several failed attempts to conquer the province, Taliban forces cut deals with Tajik and Hazara military leaders and marched in unopposed in September 1998. Many Hazara fled just ahead of the occupation. My interpreter, Ali Raza, a 26-year-old Hazara who grew up in the shadow of the eastern Buddha and played among the giant statues as a child, remembers his father calling the family together one afternoon. "He said, 'You must collect your clothes; we have to move as soon as possible, because the Taliban have arrived. If they don't kill us, we will be lucky.'" They gathered their mules and set out on foot, hiking south over snowy mountain passes to neighboring Maidan Wardak province; Raza later fled to Iran. The family didn't return home for five years.

In February 2001, Al Qaeda-supporting Taliban radicals, having won a power struggle with moderates, condemned the Buddhas as "idolatrous" and "un-Islamic" and announced their intention to destroy them. Last-ditch pleas by world leaders to Mullah Omar, the Taliban's reclusive, one-eyed leader, failed. During the next month, the Taliban—with the help of Arab munitions experts—used artillery shells and high explosives to destroy both figures. A Hazara construction worker I'll call Abdul, whom I met outside an unfinished mosque in the hills above Bamiyan, told me that the Taliban had conscripted him and 30 other Hazaras to lay plastic explosives on the ground beneath the larger Buddha's feet. It took three weeks to bring down the statue, Abdul told me. Then "the Taliban celebrated by slaughtering nine cows." Koichiro Matsuura, the head of UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural organization, declared it "abominable to witness the cold and calculated destruction of cultural properties which were the heritage of...the whole of humanity." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell deemed it a "tragedy."

Tarzi was in Strasbourg when he heard the news. "I watched it on television, and I said, 'This is not possible. Lamentable,'" he said.

Over lunch in the house he rents each summer in Bamiyan, he recounted the campaign he waged to return to Afghanistan after U.S. Special Forces and the Northern Alliance drove Osama bin Laden's protectors from power. In 2002, with the help of acquaintances such as the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, Tarzi persuaded the French government to give him funding (it has ranged from the equivalent of $40,000 to $50,000 a year) to search for the third Buddha. He flew to Bamiyan in July of that year and announced to a fiercely territorial warlord who had taken charge of the area that he planned to begin excavations. Tarzi was ordered to leave at once. "There was no real government in place, and I had nothing in writing. [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai wasn't aware of the mission. So I went back to France." The following year, Tarzi returned to Kabul, where Karzai received him warmly and gave a personal guarantee of safe passage.

One morning, I joined Tarzi in a tent beside the excavation site; we walked along a gully where some digging was going on. During his first excavation, in 2003, he told me with a touch of bravado, "The valley was filled with mines, but I wasn't afraid. I said, 'Follow me, and if I explode, you can take a different route.' And I took out a lot of mines myself, before the de-mining teams came here." Tarzi stopped before a second excavation pit and called to one of his diggers, a thin, bearded Hazara man who walked with a slight limp. The man, Tarzi told me, had lost both legs to a mine five years ago. "He was blown up just above where we're standing now, next to the giant Buddha," he added, as I shifted nervously. "We fitted him with prostheses, and he went back to work."

The archaeologist and I climbed into a minibus and drove to a second excavation site, just below the eastern niche where the smaller Buddha stood. He halted before the ruins of a seventh-century stupa, or relic chamber, a heap of clay and conglomerate rock. "This is where we started digging back in 2003, because the stupa was already exposed," Tarzi said. "It corresponded with Xuanzang's description, 'east of the Royal Monastery.' I thought at the beginning that the Buddha would be lying here, underneath the wheat fields. So I dug here, and I found a lot of ceramics, sculptures, but no Buddha."

Tarzi now gazed at the stupa with dismay. The 1,400-year-old ruin was covered with socks, shirts, pants and underwear, laundry laid out to dry by families living in nearby grottoes. "Please take a picture of the laundry drying on top of my stupa," he told one of the five University of Strasbourg graduate students who had joined him for the summer. Tarzi turned toward the cliff face, scanning the rough ground at its base. "If the great Buddha exists," he said, "it's there, at the foot of the great cliffs."

Not everyone is convinced. To be sure, Xuanzang's account is widely accepted. "He was remarkably accurate," says Nancy Dupree, an American expert on Afghan art and culture who has lived in Kabul for five decades. "The fact that he mentioned it means that there must have been something there." Kosaku Maeda, a retired professor of archaeology in Tokyo and one of the world's leading experts on the Bamiyan Valley, agrees that the monk probably did see a Sleeping Buddha. But Maeda believes that the figure, which was likely made of clay, would have crumbled into dust centuries ago. "If you think of a 1,000-foot-long reclining Buddha, then it would require 100 to 130 feet in height," he said. "You should see such a hill. But there is nothing." Kazuya Yamauchi, the Japanese archaeologist, believes Xuanzang's description of the figure's location is ambiguous. He contends it lies in a different part of the valley, Shari-i-Gholghola, or the "City of Screams," where the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan massacred thousands of inhabitants.

A short while after my outing with Tarzi, I climbed up some rickety metal scaffolding inside the eastern niche with Bert Praxenthaler, a Munich-based art historian and sculptor from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, a nongovernmental organization that receives UNESCO funding to shore up the niche walls, which were badly damaged by the Taliban blasts. In one of his first visits here some years ago, Praxenthaler recalls, he was rappelling inside the niche when he realized it was about to cave in. "It is just mud and pebbles baked together over millions of years," he said. "It lacks a natural cement, so the stone is rather weak. One slight earthquake would have destroyed everything." Praxenthaler and his team pumped 20 tons of mortar into cracks and fissures in the niche, then drilled dozens of long steel rods into the walls to support it."They are now stable," he said. Pointing to some faint smudges on the rough wall, he added: "You can see traces of the fingers of Buddhist workers, from 1,500 years ago." Praxenthaler's work led him to some serendipitous discoveries, including a tiny fabric bag—"closed with rope and sealed with two stamps"—concealed in a crevice behind the giant Buddha at the time it was constructed. "We still haven't opened it yet," he told me. "We think there is a Buddhist relic inside." (Praxenthaler is organizing a research project that will examine the presumably fragile contents.)

Preservation of the niches—work on the western one is scheduled to begin soon—is the first step, Praxenthaler said, in what many hope will be the reconstitution of the destroyed statues. During the past decade, conservationists, artists and others have floated many proposals, ranging from constructing concrete replicas to leaving the niches empty. Hiro Yamagata, a Japanese artist based in California, suggested that laser images of the Buddhas be projected onto the cliff face—an idea later abandoned as too costly and impractical.

For his part, Praxenthaler supports a method known as anastylosis, which involves combining surviving pieces of the Buddhas with modern materials. "It would be a fragmented Buddha, with gaps and holes, and later, they could fill in the gaps in a suitable way," he said. This approach has gathered strong backing from Governor Sarabi, as well as from archaeologists and art conservators, but it may not be feasible: most of the original Buddhas were pulverized, leaving only a few recognizable fragments. In addition, few Afghan officials think it politically wise, given the Islamic fervor and xenophobic sentiment of much of the country, especially among the Pashtun, to embrace a project celebrating the country's Buddhist past. "Conservation is OK, but at the moment they are critical about what smells like rebuilding the Buddha," Praxenthaler said. Others, including Tarzi, believe the niches should remain empty. New Buddhas, says Nancy Dupree, would turn Bamiyan into "an amusement park, and it would be a desecration to the artists who created the originals. The empty niches have a poignancy all their own." Tarzi agrees. "Leave the two Buddha niches as two pages of history," he told me, "so that future generations will know that at a certain moment, folly triumphed over reason in Afghanistan."

The funding that Tarzi currently gets from the French government allows him and his graduate students to fly from Strasbourg to Bamiyan each July, pay the rent on his house and employ guards and a digging team. He says he has been under no pressure to hasten his search, but the longer the work continues, the greater the likelihood his benefactors will run out of patience. "I've discovered sculptures, I've discovered the stupa, I've discovered the monasteries, I've developed a panorama of Bamiyan civilization from the first century to the arrival of Genghis Khan," he says. "The scientific results have been good."

Tarzi also continues to enjoy support from Afghan officials and many of his peers. "Tarzi is a well-educated, experienced Afghan archaeologist, and we need as many of those as we can get," says Brendan Cassar, the Kabul-based cultural specialist for UNESCO, which declared Bamiyan a World Heritage site in 2003. Nancy Dupree told me that Tarzi "wants to return something to Afghans to bolster their confidence and their belief [in the power of] their heritage. It's more than archaeology for him." But his ultimate goal, she fears, may never be realized. "What he has done is not to be sniffed at, he's found things there, but whether he will find the reclining Buddha, I really doubt."

After seven years of searching, even Tarzi has begun to hedge his bets. "I still have hope," he told me as we walked through irrigated fields of potatoes at the edge of his eastern excavations. "But I'm getting older—and weaker. Another three years, then I'll be finished."

Joshua Hammer reports from his base in Berlin. Photographer Alex Masi travels the world on assignment from London.

Tarzi also continues to enjoy support from Afghan officials and many of his peers. "Tarzi is a well-educated, experienced Afghan archaeologist, and we need as many of those as we can get," says Brendan Cassar, the Kabul-based cultural specialist for UNESCO, which declared Bamiyan a World Heritage site in 2003. Nancy Dupree told me that Tarzi "wants to return something to Afghans to bolster their confidence and their belief [in the power of] their heritage. It's more than archaeology for him." But his ultimate goal, she fears, may never be realized. "What he has done is not to be sniffed at, he's found things there, but whether he will find the reclining Buddha, I really doubt."

After seven years of searching, even Tarzi has begun to hedge his bets. "I still have hope," he told me as we walked through irrigated fields of potatoes at the edge of his eastern excavations. "But I'm getting older—and weaker. Another three years, then I'll be finished."

Joshua Hammer reports from his base in Berlin. Photographer Alex Masi travels the world on assignment from London.



Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Searching-for-Buddha-in-Afghanistan.html#ixzz1Dy23EvBX