One of the great tragedies associated with Afghanistan’s recent history — aside from all the killing, which is both obvious and horrific — is our inability to explore this region’s rich, varied, and fascinating past. In this time of war, it is easy to forget that Afghanistan has always been a crossroads and meeting place between east and west. Trade routes — including the famed Silk Road — ran through it, and those who settled there readily imbibed cultural imports from the Levant to Asia.
Not surprisingly, this mixing included religion and Afghanistan was once home to many religions, several of which fused comfortably with one another. Buddhism had an extraordinary presence there, as is evident from the colossal and awe inspiring temple complex at Bamiyan:
Constructed around 500 CE, the two carved Buddhas were the largest in the world and at various times over the centuries, several thousand monks lived at the complex. Rare Buddhist manuscripts and relics were present in abundance.
In 2001, four hundred Taliban clerics — acting in accordance with their religious beliefs — declared the site and statues idolatrous and ordered Bamiyan destroyed. Here is an explosion at the site, this one intended to kill Buddhas rather than people:
Although Bamiyan is now largely destroyed, it still attracts curious operators and spooks, as you can see here:
I was reminded of all this yesterday while reading about a Chinese mining company that is moving in on Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, and in the process is going to destroy a 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery in Mes Aynak, south of Kabul. Shall the destruction never cease?