Four men arrested for destroying newly unearthed Buddha statue in northwestern Pakistan

In this photograph taken on Nov. 16, 2012 tourists visit the monastery of Takht Bahi in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province. Takht Bahi is an archaeological site listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (AFP)
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Updated 19 July 2020

Four men arrested for destroying newly unearthed Buddha statue in northwestern Pakistan

  • Takht Bahi residents say the statue is believed to be between 1,700 and 1,800 years old
  • The area known for a Buddhist monastery from the first century CE is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

PESHAWAR: Police in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Saturday arrested four men accused of destroying an ancient statue of Buddha that was unearthed hours earlier near a UNESCO World Heritage Site, officials said.

The human-size statue was discovered when a contractor and three laborers were digging the foundations of a house in Takht Bahi, Mardan district, on Saturday morning. Takht Bahi is an archaeological site of a Buddhist monastery from the first century CE. The men were arrested after a video showing one of them breaking the sculpture with a sledgehammer went viral on social media.

"Police have detained the contractor and three laborers," Bakht Muhammad from the provincial archeology department told Arab News, "Soon after discovering the statue during the digging, the house owner and other people decided on the spot to smash the statue into pieces to earn God's blessing."

He said members of the archeology department went to the site when they noticed the video and immediately filed a police report.

"Protection and preservation of Buddhist sites is of topmost priority of the provincial government because thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from China, Thailand and South Korea visit their sacred sites every year," he added.

According to the local administration's estimates, the province has more than 1,000 ancient heritage sites of historical and religious importance.

Takht Bahi resident Muhammad Zaman said hundreds of people visit the Buddhist site every week.

"This act of breaking the Buddhist statue indicates how a section of our society is insensitive towards the importance of cultural heritage. It also depicts religious intolerance. The statue that was smashed is believed to be between 1,700 and 1,800 years old." 

Dr. Abdul Azeem, archeology director at the Department of Archeology and Museums in Islamabad, referred to the incident as an act of vandalism stemming from ignorance.

"This act of vandalism is barbaric. But at the same time, we need to educate our people and create awareness among them about the importance of artifacts," he said.

In January last year, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa announced it had devised a multi-pronged strategy to revive and refurbish the tourism sector in the province and preserve the region's Buddhist sites of the ancient Gandhara civilization.


Pakistan begins anti-polio drive to vaccinate 30 mln children 

Updated 26 October 2020

Pakistan begins anti-polio drive to vaccinate 30 mln children 

  • More than 200,000 frontline workers will participate in door-to-door program to immunize children below five years of age 
  • Nearly 80 new cases of polio have been reported since January this year 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday began an anti-polio drive to vaccinate nearly 30 million children in 128 districts across the country as part of a campaign which ends on November 1. 

For the purpose, 210,000 frontline workers will participate in the door-to-door initiative to immunize children below five years of age, a statement released by Pakistan Polio Eradication Program (PPEP) said on Monday. 

It added that during smaller campaigns launched in July and August, frontline workers had been trained in anti-COVID-19 precautionary measures, such as proper use of face masks, regular hand washing, and maintaining a safe social distance during the door-to-door visits. 

“Polio workers have been trained in COVID-19 protocols...and the anti-polio campaign would be utilized to raise awareness about preventive measures against coronavirus as well,” it said. 

All polio activities in Pakistan came to a halt when the World Health Organization (WHO) decided in late March that they should be suspended to avoid placing communities and frontline workers at the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Pakistan resumed its anti-polio drive on July 20, after a four-month break and in smaller numbers, with the campaign used to raise awareness about the coronavirus disease as well.

According to the WHO, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio continues to be a threat, with Pakistan reporting 79 new cases since January this year. 

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus, mainly affecting children under the age of five years. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease. 

“Each time a child under the age of five is vaccinated, their protection against the virus is increased. Repeated immunizations have protected millions of children from polio, allowing almost all countries in the world to become polio-free,” the PPEP statement said.