Islamic fanatics enjoying the backing of Pakistan Army vandalised the ancient, archaeologically priceless Buddhist rock carvings by painting on them supremacist slogans of the religion that now prevails in Pakistan in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The vandalism is reminiscent of the destruction of the carved statues of Buddha by the Taliban in the Bamyan valley of Afghanistan in 2001, which had caused outrage worldwide.
The fanatics painted slogans and Pakistani flags on the 800 AD Buddhist rock carvings. The incident came to light when some residents of Gilgit-Baltistan posted pictures on social media on Tuesday that suggested wet paint was still trickling down the carvings.
Earlier, conservationists had expressed apprehension that the artefacts were getting submerged in the DiamerBhasha dam that China and the Pakistan Army are jointly constructing in the area.
The UNESCO says these carvings, including a 9-ft tall figure of the Buddha, are the last surviving references to three synods. Hunza and Haldekush have some more of these Buddhist carvings.
Criticising the authorities in Pakistan for sponsoring such irreversible damage to these rocks near Chilas, an eminent historian of Gilgit Baltistan, Araib Ali Baig, tweeted; “Have such slogans and paintings been made on the Gandhara civilization which is located in the Punjab province of Pakistan from the last three thousand years before Christ or is it just to militarize the civilizations of the disputed region of Gilgit-Baltistan?”
Another tweet criticising damage to the ancient art read; “This grotesque vandalism is intended to engender feelings of faux patriotism in Gilgitis and to remind them who’s the boss (Paki Estab)…..”.
The local media has slammed Pakistani government for their “awful display of barbarism on an ancient rock-art site”. Hurmat Ali Shah tweeted; “The horror of this vandalism is that of erasing history. They all are barbarians who deform/destroy our cultural heritage and hence our conduit to knowing our historical ways of being”.
Such carvings are present also in areas along the Indus River in the Indian union territory of Ladakh, but the ancient Buddhist works in Gilgit-Baltistan stand out for the petroglyphs (rock carvings) in hundreds of thousands. Baig said there were an estimated 50,000 pieces of petroglyphs in Gilgit-Baltistan, especially along Karakoram Highway.
After severe criticism by historians and also the local media, an agency took upon itself the task of restoring the Buddhist carvings.
Initially, they had covered the damage with a banner that read “dil dil Pakistan (Pakistan in every heart)” [as seen in the featured image on top of this webpage].
During his recent visit to Ladakh, spiritual and temporal Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, had exhorted people to preserve the heritage.