A Tweet & A Recollection
Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, has praised the 7th Century rock carving in Swat Valley by calling it “one of the largest engravings of Buddha” at a time when the Buddhists are facing extinction because of unavailability of worship places, religious teaching and government patronage in his country. Later, a section of the Pakistani people trolled their PM on Twitter!
On October 27 (2021), PM Khan wrote on his Twitter account that one of the largest rock engravings of Buddha, almost 2000 years old, was located in Jahan Abad, Swat. According to the top Pakistani officials, the Prime Minister’s Twitter post was aimed at attracting foreign tourists, as the Government has decided to boost the tourism industry. Hence, PM Khan also tweeted a picture of the ancient Buddha of Swat, while posting his comment.
Immediately after the PM published his post, some Pakistanis recalled the fate of Buddhas of Bamiyan, two 6th Century monumental engravings in neighbouring Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Others slammed Khan for promoting tourism in Swat, despite maintaining silence on the treatment of the Buddhist minority in the South Asian nation. Some of his countrymen even advised their PM to take necessary steps in order to control the rising inflation in Pakistan.
It may be noted that the Pakistani Taliban or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), once, occupied the Swat Valley, where the rock carvings are located. The banned terrorist organisation had attacked the Buddha of Swat in September 2007, blowing up half the statue’s face. The act had triggered global anger. However, the Government of Pakistan restored the statue with Italian assistance in 2018. Many believe that the TTP attack on the Buddha of Swat was an echo of what the Afghan Taliban had done in the Bamiyan Valley in 2001.
As the TTP maintains cordial ties with the Afghan Taliban, some Pakistani nationals referred to the Taliban as Prime Minister Khan’s Pals and Friends, asking the PM to “protect the Swat Statue from your Taliban friends”. They also urged Khan not to help the Taliban locate the remaining Buddha statues to destroy. Meanwhile, one Afghan user of Twitter stated: “You have destroyed the oldest and biggest Buddha in Bamiyan Afghanistan, now you’re worshipping this small one (sic)”.
Khan’s tweet also triggered discussions about the current situation of the Buddhist minority in Pakistan. Instead of promoting the rock statue, the PM should speak about how Buddhists “vanished from Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan”, read a Tweet. The Dawn daily recently reported that the followers of Buddhism are facing extinction in Pakistan “due to unavailability of worship places, religious teaching and government patronage”. Lala Muneer, the head of a five-member group of practising Buddhists from Naushahro Feroze in Sindh Province, claimed that there were around 650 Buddhist families in various districts of Sindh, including Ghotki, Sanghar, Khairpur, Nawabshah and Naushahro Feroze. However, there is no Stupa (Buddhist temple) there for them to offer their religious rituals, stressed Muneer.
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