Emphasis must be on safeguarding cultural landscape of Bamiyan Valley: UNESCO

Ambitious proposals to reconstruct the ravaged Bamiyan Buddha statues in Afghanistan have been rejected by the UNESCO conservation experts. Keeping in view the costs involved and the nature of available scientific data, the Bamiyan Expert Working Group constituted by the UNESCO has concluded that international proposals to rebuild the two large standing Buddha sculptures, destroyed by Taliban in 2001, “cannot be considered.”

The expert group, after its 10th meeting in Tokyo to discuss and advise the UNESCO and the Afghanistan authorities on the conservation of the Bamiyan World Heritage Site, has recommended that the western niche, one of the two that housed a 1,500-year-old Buddha statue, must be left empty “as a testimony to the tragic act of destruction.” Any proposal to reconstruct the sculpture in the other niche, in the coming years, must be taken up after completing a feasibility study, it suggested.

The unique Buddha statues, 55 and 38 metres tall, carved on the face of the Hindu-Kush Mountains in Bamyian were world renowned. These magnificent examples of art that synthesised various styles, including Gandhara and Greco-Roman, were destroyed in March 2001 by Taliban using dynamites, rocket launchers and tanks. In 2003, this archaeologically significant place was declared as a World Heritage Site, and it was also simultaneously placed in the list of sites in danger.

In the last few years, demands to rebuild the two statues gained fresh momentum after the possibility of reconstructing the smaller of the two, using fragments from the original statues were demonstrated. There were hopes that with international funding, this ambitious project could be accomplished.

The UNESCO expert group has made it clear that emphasis must be on safeguarding and preserving the entire cultural landscape of the Bamiyan Valley and on the preparation of a comprehensive management plan with the involvement of local authorities.

Meanwhile, the Afghan authorities have been requested to appoint trained guards and archaeological police force to prevent illicit excavations and looting of artefacts from the site.

A museum of peace and the construction of eight small interpretation centres have also been recommended.