Youth leader

Taliban replace statue of Hazara leader in Bamiyan with Koran

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Kabul (AFP) – The Taliban replaced the statue of a Hazara leader declared a national martyr by the former government with a replica of the Koran, residents of Bamiyan said Thursday – a move they say could spark violence.

The original statue depicted Abdul Ali Mazari, a leader of the majority Shiite minority who was killed while a prisoner of the Taliban during their first term in power.

The statue was beheaded by a rocket-propelled grenade shortly after the Taliban returned to power in August, in an incident that residents of the central Afghan city blamed on die-hard Islamists.

The Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam prohibits the human form from being depicted in paintings and sculptures – and in printed photographs in extreme cases.

Many companies have removed or covered billboards and posters featuring people since the group’s takeover.

“Yesterday, they completely removed the statue and replaced it with a replica of the Koran,” said Abdul Danishyar, a civil society activist in Bamiyan.

“They are trying to erase Bamiyan’s story, people will react violently to this,” he told AFP.

Mazari’s statue stood in central Bamiyan Square, where the Taliban blew up two massive 1,500-year-old Buddha statues in 2001, just before the American invasion that drove them out.

The square, named after Mazari, was renamed “military street,” Danishyar said.

Abdul Ali Shafaq, a member of the Bamiyan provincial council, told AFP he would speak to Taliban officials and urge them to back down.

“This is a very sensitive issue, it could trigger reactions,” he said.

“The people of Bamiyan love Mazari, they were making a new statue to replace the partially destroyed one.”

Mazari, a fiercely anti-Taliban militia leader, was killed in 1995 after being taken prisoner by the Taliban.

They said they shot him down after he attempted to grab a gun from one of his guards as he was transferred to a helicopter.

He was officially named “Martyr for National Unity of Afghanistan” by ousted President Ashraf Ghani in 2016.

The predominantly Shiite Hazara community, which makes up about 10 percent of Afghanistan’s approximately 38 million people, has long been persecuted by Sunni extremists, such as the Islamic State group, in a country torn by ethnic and religious divisions.

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