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Saving the Buddhas of Mes Aynak (Page 3 of 4)

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“Local people are upset that smugglers excavated and took these things to Pakistan,” Javed Noorani of Integrity Watch, an NGO that monitors the extractive industry, told The Diplomat. “One of the people who used to be a smuggler told me that he used to sell these things in Pakistan. But now he regrets doing this with something that is so priceless.”

Against this tumultuous backdrop, Mes Aynak has become a hotbed of competing interests, involving archaeologists, black market hawkers and even the Taliban, who were responsible for demolishing two giant Afghan Buddha statues carved from a cliff side in 2001. Archaeologists at the site report facing danger to this day. According to Noorani, 1,700 members of the Afghan Public Protection Police have been hired to protect the site.

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“Last year, my colleagues and I received repeated message on our cell phones from a Taliban commander who asked us to pay money, or else our vehicles would be blown up by an IED,” Abdul Qadeer Temori, head of the Afghan Institute of Archeology, told The Diplomat. “Initially we didn’t take the text seriously, but we started receiving the messages again and again so we informed the ministry and the ministry in turn informed other security organs. Three times we missed an IED by a few minutes.”

But it is the copper mine project that threatens to deal the final blow for Mes Aynak. While the loss of cultural heritage cannot be quantified, the money involved is a huge incentive to proceed with the project.

The issue is complex. Destroying an irretrievable part of a nation’s cultural heritage is unconscionable. But Afghans need to work and they need jobs to get their economy back on its feet.

“It’s a war-torn country,” Huffman said. “Young people need work. Most people are interested in the financial side of the site. The Buddhism-Islam division has never come into the conversation. Even members of the Taliban – some of whom I’ve talked to – have never expressed any anger towards the Buddhist aspect of the site. It’s all about money and politics.”

“No country in the world would like to lose such a historic site,” said Temori, who supports the project, nonetheless. “Afghanistan is a war torn country and the economy is very weak and dependent on the international community. I myself am very happy that Afghanistan can use its own mines.”

Temori added, “Common people who are jobless want the mining project to start as soon as possible. The Chinese have “promised job opportunities, schools, clinics, roads and many more facilities and privileges to the people of Logar.”

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