Remember the shocking images of vandalized Bamiyan Buddhas from the spring of 2001? The Sunni Taliban extremists shouting 'Allah hu Akbar' as explosives demolished the holy sixth-century sandstone carvings? Baghdad to Bamiyan, Kabul to Karachi, the destruction of archaeological sites has continued abated by the fundamentalists from the Islamic State, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Cultural destruction has now reached the Pakistan-pccupied Kashmir (PoK) with the vandalism of Buddhist heritage, dating back to 800 AD.
Pakistan bulldozing religious minorities and their places of worship isn't new. Destruction of <a href="https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/mob-vandalizes-hindu-temples-pakistan-over-blasphemy-charges">temples</a> and <a href="http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Punjab,-a-Muslims-mob-destroys-a-Catholic-church-48478.html">churches</a> has been going on for a long time.
Now, desecrating, defacing and destructing of Buddhist carvings in Gilgit-Baltistan is stooping to a new low. By painting Pakistani flag, writing slogans, and destroying ancient carvings in Chilas, the vandals are only gaining more notoriety.
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"It is a matter of grave concern that the Buddhist symbols are being destroyed and the religious and cultural rights and freedoms are being trampled with impunity in the Indian territories under illegal occupation of Pakistan. Egregious activities of this nature which display contempt for the ancient civilisational and cultural heritage, are highly condemnable," said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
Seeking access for India's experts to "restore and preserve this invaluable archaeological heritage," the Indian government also called upon Pakistan to "immediately vacate all illegally occupied territories and end gross violation of political, economic and cultural rights of people living there."
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As Pakistan announced last month to go ahead with its China-backed Diamer-Basha dam project in Gilgit-Baltistan, not just strategic but even archaeological experts are spending sleepless nights.
"The Diamer-Bhasha dam has been opposed by Sindh and the people of Gilgit, who have claimed that it would damage the social, economic, and ecological balance of the region and inundate 32 villages of the Diamer district, rendering thousands homeless. Many people displaced by previous dams, such as Tarbela and Mangla, have yet to be fully resettled, raising their poverty. Additionally, there are fears that the site of Diamer-Bhasha Dam contains hundreds of rare stone carvings, sculptures and statues of the Buddha, raising concerns that it could damage our heritage," reported <a href="https://www.newsweekpakistan.com/imran-khan-orders-diamer-bhasha-dam-construction-to-begin/">Newsweek</a> Pakistan.
Every year, a large number of Buddhists from Japan, China, Korea and other countries visit these religious sites—including Henzal Stupa and a 7th century monument named Kargha Buddha, a 45-feet carved rock statue located near Kargha Nallah, about 10 kilometres from Gilgit—to perform rituals in the region.
Historians estimate as many as 30,000 Buddhist rock carvings in GB alone, most of which are now a picture of neglect.
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"About 70 per cent of the rock art would be submerged under water and another 20 per cent would become casualty to the rerouting of Karakoram Highway and the establishment of new settlements," Prof Dr Harald Hauptmann of Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities of Germany, who had been working at the sites of rock art in Northern Areas since 1985 told Pakistan's leading daily <a href="https://www.dawn.com/news/469239/diamer-bhasha-threatens-ancient-heritage-sites">Dawn</a> more than a decade ago.
Unfortunately, those who matter in Pakistan believe in destruction rather than in preservation..