When the Taliban blasted the famous Bamiyan Buddhas with artillery and dynamite in March 2001, leaders of many faiths and countries denounced the destruction as an act of cultural terrorism. But today, with the encouragement of the US government, Chinese engineers are preparing a similar act of desecration in Afghanistan: the demolition of a vast complex of richly decorated ancient Buddhist monasteries.
The offense of this Afghan monument is not idolatry. Its sin is to sit atop one of the world's largest copper deposits.
The copper at the Mes Aynak mine, just an hour's drive south of Kabul, is to be extracted under a roughly $3 billion deal signed in 2007 between Afghanistan and China's Metallurgical Group Corp. The Afghan Finance Minister, Omar Zakhilwal, recently said the project could pump $300 million a year into government coffers by 2016. But the project has been plagued by rumours of corruption; there was widespread talk of a $30 million kickback involving the former minister of mines, who resigned.