The unpleasant, distressing memories and images of the demolition of the Buddhist statue by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Bamyan are set to be relived.

As many as 30,000 raw carvings and scriptures of Buddhist origin are set to be destroyed in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan administered Jammu & Kashmir.

The reason is the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam across the waters of the Indus river.

There is little hope that the invaluable Buddhist vestiges will survive as the dam project is funded by the Communist government in Beijing, which has begun an apocalypse against any and all Buddhist legacy in China. 

Imagery related to the Buddhist faith would find no support in Pakistan either; a country whose ideology is based on a monotheist, religious fanaticism.

The Chinese government has razed over 800 statues of Buddha in the recent past.

Pakistan is no different as a 1,700-year old statue was destroyed just recently in the northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

The statues, carvings, and petroglyphs are similar in construction and style to those discovered in the Taxila, Gandhara and Udyâna/Swat regions of northern Pakistan and dated to the mid-1st millennium CE, according to Pakistani researcher Muhammad Zahir.

The proposed dam and hydroelectric facility would not only submerge the area, but more importantly it would deface the great remains of the ancient civilizational and cultural heritage that once existed here.

The wiser people in Pakistan have been protesting to ensure the Buddhist heritage is maintained.

However, there have been attempts to vandalise the ancient treasures.

At many places, ancient Buddhist rock carvings have been damaged by blackening them, or by painting them over with Pakistan’s national flag.

A huge number of pilgrims from Japan, China, Korea and other countries come to Gilgit-Baltistan to visit these religious sites every year.

The archaeological study conducted by Pakistani authorities shows a presence of about 30,000 important statues, carvings and sculptures related to Buddhism within a range of 135 kilometres of the ongoing Bhasha reservoir that will form behind the dam.

The dam project would submerge the priceless historical Buddhist sculptures, inscriptions and petroglyphs in some 50 villages.

Earlier, Pakistan was hesitant over China demanding full ownership of the dam and hydroelectric plant in case it funds the construction works.

Unfortunately the Pakistan government failed to raise the funds to support the project domestically, even with Pakistan’s Supreme Court putting out a patriotic call for crowd funding – but this too failed – miserably.

Thus, Islamabad is left with no option but to approach China clutching a begging bowl though this in itself may lead to loss of sovereignty over the dam.

The hydroelectric project will now be implemented by a joint venture between Power Construction Corporation of China, and the Pakistan Army’s Frontier Works Organization with Pakistan losing a huge 70 percent of ownership of the dam to China.

And with China in the driving seat, all efforts to save the region’s Buddhist heritage is likely to be met with an iron hand.

These invaluable statues, carvings, paintings risk being desecrated, and destroyed without reason.

In order to impose restrictions on the religious freedoms of Buddhists in China, the ruling Communist Party has issued a directive to demolish statues and images of the Buddha using bizarre reasons.

A 29-meter carving of Buddha on a mountain in the north-eastern province of Jilin was destroyed because it was “too tall”.

Similarly, the 30-meter tall Guanyin statue atop a mountain near the Longyun Temple was torn down along with several other edicts and monuments.  

The move to wipe Buddhism’s legacy by the Chinese Communist Party’s is aimed at the subjugation of the Buddhist faith, to have it bend to the will of the CCP. 

“Demolition of the Guanyin statue was ordered because too many people worship and praise Buddha, and the government prohibits people from worshiping Buddha statues,” a Central Committee party member told activists fighting to prevent demolition. 

Following China’s modus operandi blindly is set to cost the people of Pakistan dearly,  especially those living in Gilgit.

And, in addition to issues of faith and heritage preservation, the proposed Diamer- Bhasha dam poses a serious threat to the survival Pakistani people living nearby.

The dam is forecast to be an ecological disaster as the region bears the brunt of an average of 300 earthquakes every month – with the site of the dam laid out on the Central Asian Faultline.

General Dr Ghulam Safdar Butt, the original designer of the dam, said “I shudder at the thought of earthquake effects on Bhasha Dam. (A major tremor could) burst (the dam which) would wipe out Tarbela and all barrages on the Indus; which would take us back to the stone-age.”

Yet, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in July 2020, inaugurated the construction work of the mega hydroelectric project, the Diamer-Bhasha Dam, calling it an historic milestone in the development of the country.

Suleman Najib Khan, convener of the nation’s Water Resource Development Council, termed the Diamer- Bhasha dam a hydrogen bomb waiting to go off.

“In the history of the world, no Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) dam has ever been built of even comparable height in such unforgiving conditions.

In the event that the dam bursts at its proposed height of 908 ft during a routine seismic movement, eight million-acre feet of water (8 million x 326,000 gallons), with the destructive power of a hydrogen bomb, will wipe out everything on the Indus all the way down to Sukkur (in Sindh),” Khan warned.

Images supplied by author

 

About the author: Nadir Ali Wani is a resident of Hawal in Srinagar the capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

He holds a Masters degree in Conflict Studies and International Relations from Jawahar Lal Nehru University New Delhi.

Mr. Ali has an abiding interest in the study of conflicts in South Asia with particular interest in the international politics to do with China, Islam and Kashmir.

He worked as a Research Assistant to Professor Amitabh Mattoo at JNU, New Delhi while conducting dialogue with various members of the civil society and with the Kashmiri leadership.

He has been associated with the Interlocutor’s Group after the 2010, uprising in Kashmir in the capacity of a Research Officer. Currently

Mr. Ali is Director, Center for peace and justice a research based group in Srinagar, which is a non profit organisation an NGO known for its efforts of youth development in Kashmir.

He has no political affiliation.

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