Japan offered to hide Afghanistan's Bamiyan Buddha statues to prevent the Taliban from destroying them, but the hardline regime instead suggested the Japanese convert to Islam, a new memoir says.
Abdul Salam Zaeef, who was Taliban-ruled Afghanistan's most public face as ambassador to Pakistan, wrote that Japan was the most active country in pressing the regime not to demolish the 1,500-year-old statues in 2001.
He said that an official delegation from Japan, along with a Buddhist group from Sri Lanka, offered to remove the statues piece by piece and reassemble them abroad.
"Another suggestion they had was that they cover the statues from head to toe in a way that no one would recognize they had ever been there, while preserving them underneath," Zaeef wrote in "My Life With The Taliban," just published in the United States.
He said that the Japanese told the Afghans that they were forefathers of their religion and should preserve its heritage, but Zaeef said Afghans considered Buddhism "a void religion."
"Since they saw us as their forefathers and had followed us before, why had they not followed our example when we found the true religion, I asked them," he wrote.
Defying the intense international appeals, the Taliban spent a month using first anti-aircraft guns and then dynamite to obliterate the Buddha statues, arguing that Islam forbade idolatry.
Zaeef said he believed that the destruction was within Islamic sharia law. But he wrote that the decision had "bad timing," as it worsened the Taliban's foreign relations.
The Taliban was ousted months later in a U.S.-led invasion after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaida, which found a haven in Afghanistan. Zaeef was imprisoned at the U.S. camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and now lives in Kabul.© Wire reports