One of the most horrifying acts of the Taliban was blasting the two magnificent, 1500-year-old Buddha statues in Bamiyan with dynamites, rocket launchers, and tanks. The 10th anniversary of this tragic destruction, which began on March 2, 2011 and took weeks to complete, provides an occasion to reflect on the future of the Afghan heritage. These statues, carved on the face of the Hindu-Kush Mountains, were great representatives of Asian art. The two unique colossi, 55 and 38 meter tall — the first of which was the tallest in the world — synthesised various art styles, including the Gandhara and Greco-Roman. They also represented a wonderfully creative phase of Buddhist history. The Indian government, through the Archaeological Survey of India, played a commendable role in the conservation of the Bamiyan monuments between 1969 and 1977. Although attempts were made in the early 1980s to declare them as World Heritage sites, it was only in 2003 that the effort succeeded. Simultaneously, these heritage structures were placed in the list of sites in danger, which helped mobilise international expertise and financial support for their protection.

UNESCO, which is coordinating the conservation efforts in Afghanistan, deserves the highest praise. Instead of rushing to rebuild the destroyed icons, as desired by some of the heritage experts and funding countries, it opted for a three-phase project to demine the area, strengthen the mountain cliffs, and improve the vicinity. Involving local communities in conservation efforts and building their capacities has been very sensibly made a priority. This sustainable approach, adopted since 2003, has paid dividends and the Bamiyan site is now ready to be removed from the list of World Heritage sites in danger. The demand to rebuild the Bamiyan Buddhas has gained fresh momentum after experts demonstrated the feasibility of reconstructing the smaller of the two statues, using fragments from the original statues. A final decision will be taken after carefully analysing the costs and benefits of the project, including the social gains that would accrue to the local community. The Taliban's barbaric destruction of the Buddhas exposes the limits of international conventions meant to safeguard heritage structures of universal value. In general, these conventions only address the damage caused by conventional war; they are ineffective in dealing with rogue States that vandalise their own cultural properties. There is an urgent need to review these international legal instruments and to make it mandatory for states to protect their cultural diversity and the heritage structures that represent it gloriously.

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