Pakistan has been trying to boost its relations with Sri Lanka to undermine domination by rival India in South Asia region.
And it has found a way to expand bilateral relations by promoting tourism to Buddhist sites in Pakistan to bond with Sri Lankan people. However, to everyone’s dismay, the heritage sites in Pakistan has seen widespread demolition of Buddhist carvings and stupas and statues of Buddha, especially in Swat valley.
All this has revived the horrific memories of the destruction of two giant and 2000-year-old statues of Buddha carved into the hillside in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan valley. This certainly does not forebode good signs for the Pakistan government’s plans to expand relations with Sri Lanka using religious tourism as a peg.
A few months ago, Pakistani President Dr Arif Alvi had sought to seek closeness with Sri Lankans when he met a delegation of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks in Islamabad and spoke about religious tourism being an excellent platform to strengthen ties. 2 However, the Pakistan government has even failed to protect heritage Buddhist sites from radical, religious fanatics in the country. In 2020, a 1,700 year-old statue was demolished by a few Pakistani people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the northwestern province of Pakistan. The statue was crucial since it was known around the world for being the main cradle of the Buddhist civilisation.
The desecration of the statue filmed the whole incident on a mobile phone. The video of the demolition went viral on social media. While civil activists and human rights activists expressed concerns, many Pakistani nationals supported the unfortunate act. Rawalpindi resident Umer Usmani hailed the desecration act by linking it with the teachings of Islam. “As a Muslim, it is very necessary to smash and ruin all the idols in order to keep the Muslim separate identity from other nations. Pakistan was made on the basis of Islam, so Islam requires to eradicate the idolatry as our grandfather Ibrahim and the holy Prophet (pbuh) did,” Usmani said on Twitter.
Human rights activist Ihtesham Afghan cited Talibani acts of demolition of Bamiyan valley to describe the demotion of the statue in Pakistan. “The 1800 old Bhudda remains founded in Takht-i- Bahi & smashed by religious extremists. The real aim of putting extremism in people’s mind is to washout the identity of those who are living in this region as they done before in Afghanistan,” Afghan said.5 The destruction site was just a few km from Takht-i-Bahi, which is one of the most popular destination in
Pakistan and visited by a large number of people from Sri Lanka, Korea and Japan. In such scenario, it would be difficult for Pakistan to develop confidence among Sri Lankans and thus to develop friendly cooperation.
“The armed Taliban has been routed from Swat and the threat is over now. But these sites face new threats from land mafia; artifact smugglers; negligence of the government; and lack of awareness among people about its history,” says Osman Ulasyar, an artist and activist from Pakistan.
The number of tourists has seen sharp decline due to the country being labelled as a hub of terror activities. Now, the demolition of religious structure not just lowered the tourist flow and revenue but also created challenges for Islamabad to maintain cordial relations with neighbor countries, especially Buddhist- majority Sri Lanka. Moreover, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s intervention in the Sri Lankan government’s decision to cremate all Covid-19 infected dead bodies including those of Muslims had annoyed the local Buddhist population. While the leadership of both countries may get along well over common agenda to counter India, the desecration of Buddhist heritage in Pakistan is certainly not going to be taken by Sri Lankan population lightly.
Source: Islam Khabar