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Desperate for Money, the Taliban Starts Selling Tickets to Ruins of Giant Buddhas They Have Blown Up

By: Han Li

Twenty-two years ago, Taliban founder Mohammad Omar ordered the destruction of Afghanistan’s famous Buddhas of Bamiyan. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, these majestic statues once stood over 50 meters tall, standing the test of time. However, the onslaught of Western sanctions imposed upon the Pashtun nation has forced the cash-strapped Taliban to sell tickets to tourists to visit ancient monuments they themselves had blasted to pieces.

It appears out of character for the militant political movement, who blasted away the 1,500-year-old Buddhist relics, which are technically reliefs, leaving little more than their niches hewn out of the mountain.

The Taliban reduced the two monuments to bare holes in the rock over the course of many days in March 2001 by deploying anti-tank mines, anti-aircraft guns, artillery, and strategically placed explosives, according to a report from Slate.

However, the Taliban government is seemingly now turning on its past actions. With the Taliban safely in power, they have turned their attention to state keeping. Bamiyan holds special attention for its symbolic and economic importance. Officials and locals alike see the area as a potential source of revenue, specifically through tourism, and are working to draw international visitors. However, the human rights violations and transnational organized crime it is associated with have so far warded off international visitors.

Furthermore, there are many educated urban Afghans who are furious at the Taliban for not only destroying their cultural heritage, but also dismantling the lives and freedom they had built for themselves during the 20 years the group was out of power.

Even so, last year, 200,000 registered tourists, most of them Afghans, visited the province, spending an average of $57 each. With additional efforts to promote and revitalize the area, locals and Taliban alike see tourism as a significant source of income.

Nonetheless, nothing can happen without the archaeological restoration of the remains of the 55 and 38 meter standing Buddhas. Unfortunately, there’s been little restoration work done since the Taliban’s capture of Kabul. Although foreign groups are welcome to resume their work, many feel that it would be immoral to return as women’s rights disappear. As a result, international support has disappeared, and the local government is unable to find funding or archaeologists to carry out such a large-scale project.

The destruction of Afghanistan's Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban remains a painful reminder of the loss of cultural heritage and the disregard for historical significance. While the Taliban government has shifted its focus towards state keeping and potential revenue from tourism, their past actions and human rights violations continue to hinder international visitors.

The region holds great potential for economic growth. With international support dwindling and concerns over women's rights, the local government struggles to find the necessary funding and expertise to undertake the challenging task of restoration. As the story of the Buddhas of Bamiyan continues, the delicate balance between preserving cultural heritage and addressing societal issues remains a complex challenge for Afghanistan.

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