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Katasraj Update

In 2005, Pakistan said that they would spend $25 million on the restoration of the Katasraj temple. 7 years later, looking at a picture of the temple, it does not look like much has been done.

At a time when the Hindu community in the country is crying over ‘conversion and forced-marriages’, they have been inflicted by another misery: the sacred pond at Katas Raj here is drying up because its water is being supplied to the nearby towns, Dawn has learnt. A cement factory near Katas Temples has installed tubewells in the area which have reduced the water level in the pond. The water from the pond is being supplied to Choa Syedan Shah and Waula village as the Punjab government could not provide any alternative facility to the residents of the area. [Holy pond at Katas Raj drying up]

Salman Rashid who visited the region recently writes

Last Sunday I was at Katas Raj, the ancient religious site (Buddhist and Hindu) in the Salt Range. It is useless to lament the destruction of the pristine site with marble flooring and steel pipe banisters to the stairways where none had ever existed in history. Culprit: the department of archaeology.[What is the matter with us?]


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Maldives: Destroying the Indic Heritage

Here is some shocking news from Maldives

Several historical artifacts exhibited at the Maldives National Museum, including Buddhist statues were destroyed in a mob attack on Wednesday morning, an act of vandalism that is said to have caused “unimaginable damage” to the treasured Maldivian heritage.

According to a source, a coral stone head of Lord Buddha, an 11th century piece recovered from Thoddoo in Alifu Atoll, was smashed up by the attackers, one of the most significant pieces at the museum inside Sultan’s Park.

Other pieces vandalised include the Bohomala sculptures, monkey statues and a broken statue piece of the Hindu water god, Makara, while the two five faced statues discovered from Male’ were also damaged – the only remaining archaeological evidence proving the existence of a Buddhist era in the Maldives.

AFP reported Nasheed as saying that the vandals included Islamist hardliners who had attacked the museum because they believed some of the statues inside were “idolatrous”.[Mob storms National Museum, destroys Buddhist statues: “A significant part of our heritage is lost now”]

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Briefly Noted: The Triple Agent

Last month, a Taliban member came with a message from the Quetta shura to meet Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who was leading the peace council. The Taliban member — Mullah Esmatullah — had bought two audio messages from the shura and one of them was for Mr. Rabbani. The messenger was treated with respect and bought into Rabbani’s room where he exploded, taking a few lives with him.

In 2009, in Khost, Afghanistan, a similar event happened. A Jordanian agent who had provided spectacular reports on Al-Qaeda members was invited to Camp Chapman for a debriefing. To show that he was trusted, CIA officials in Khost who had never met him decided to let him inside without a search. As soon as he saw the line of CIA officers and their Blackwater guards he started chanting something and only his Jordanian handler knew what was going to happen.

According to a NY Times report

The attack at the C.I.A. base dealt a devastating blow to the spy agency’s operations against militants in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, eliminating an elite team using an informant with strong jihadi credentials. The attack further delayed hope of penetrating Al Qaeda’s upper ranks, and also seemed potent evidence of militants’ ability to strike back against their American pursuers.[Attacker in Afghanistan Was a Double Agent]

The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick tells the story of what happened in Khost by following the lives of the bomber Humam al-Balawi, his Jordanian handler Sharif Ali bin Zeid, the station chief Jennifer Matthews, the analyst Elizabeth Hanson and even their guards. It starts with the arrest of al-Balwai who was a doctor who moonlighted as an online Islamic warrior. He was arrested by Jordianian Intelligence, but then bin Zeid decided to make him a double agent. He was to infiltrate al-Qaeda in Pakistan and report back. The doctor who had never been to Pakistan before vanished into the tribal regions and very soon started giving inside information like they had never seen before. No one in Jordan or Langley realized that it was a setup. The al-Qaeda folks turned out to be smarter than the ones who flew the drones.

The book compiles decisions made the various actors and how they all added up to a disastrous end. Excited by the possibility that they could get al-Zawahiri, the CIA let their guard down. The blame is finally attributed to the station chief Jennifer Matthews who made the decision to let the bomber in without a search. The book is less than 300 pages, but reads a Frederick Forsyth novel.

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The Destruction of the Buddhist site of Mes Aynak


When Buddha met Taliban (via Hadi Zaher)

Last December, the Hosni Mubarak’s government gave 2.8 square kilometers of land around lake Qarun to developers to build a tourist resort. If the resort was built, a Neolithic site would have been lost. Now, due to the revolution, that land deal has been revoked.

Archaeologists say the remains of rain-based Neolithic farming in the reserve may hold vital clues to a technological leap that led to irrigation-based farming along the Nile.

Around 4,000 BC, humans occupying a strip along the northern shore of the lake seized a window of only a few centuries of rainfall to grow grain in previously inhospitable desert, archaeologists say.

“We have the evidence of the earliest agriculture activity in Egypt. So it’s before the Pharaohs, it’s before the early dynastic period when Egypt becomes a state,” said Willeke Wendrich, an archaeology professor at the University of California in Los Angeles.[Egypt’s revolution may save Neolithic treasure]

But the Buddhist monasteries of Mes Aynak in Aghanistan are not so lucky.

Mes Aynak (Little Copper Well) lies 25 miles south-east of Kabul, in a barren region. The Buddhist monasteries date from the third to the seventh centuries, and are located near the remains of ancient copper mines. It is unclear whether the monastery was originally established to serve the miners or if the monks set up there to work the mines themselves.Here, 7,000 ft up the mountains, Bin Laden set up a training camp in 1999 to prepare terrorists for the 11 September attack. All traces of the camp have gone, but the region still remains a Taliban stronghold.

During the early 2000s, widespread looting occurred at the Buddhist sites after the Kabul government found it difficult to impose control. Archaeologists are now uncovering dozens of statues with missing heads that were broken off to sell.

Mes Aynak’s fate changed again in 2007, when the government negotiated a 30-year mining concession with the state-owned China Metallurgical Group. The archaeological remains sit on the world’s second largest copper deposit. The $3bn deal represents the largest business venture in Afghanistan’s history.[Race to save Buddhist relics in former Bin Laden camp]

Now that mining the place is lucrative, you can say bye bye to the monastery next year. After all who wants that in Afghanistan now? Definitely not the Chinese and definitely not the folks who run the country. In 2001, the Taliban used  mortars, dynamite, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons to destroy Bamiyan. Now the Chinese are going to use dynamite and heavy machinery to destroy the remains of an Indic religion.

There is not much in the news about this Bamiyan type destruction. There are no screaming voices in the Guardian from international award winners who usually get upset when they hear the word mining.

If you want to know more about Mes Aynak and what the world is losing, please take a look at the ebook created by The Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology. (blog)


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Saving History from Terrorists

Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has only hatred and disdain for the golden relics of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, the first of the urban civilizations built on syncretic ideas which are anathema to the Kalashnikov-wielding Taliban. Imagine the damage caused in any attack on sites which have only in recent years started yielding pointers to the journey our modern society has traversed. Visualize the Taliban plundering the ancient site of Taxila, a few hours north of Islamabad, not far from where the Pakistan army is now fighting them. The worries aren’t mine alone. Many young men, who make a living by acting as guides to tourists told me during a visit to Taxila two years ago that they are already being frowned upon for talking about Buddhism and Buddhist history. [We need to save history from terrorists too!]

Ranjan Roy writes about terrorism against history in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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