Residents of Bamiyan reported Thursday that the Taliban have replaced a statue of a Hazara leader declared a national martyr by the previous government with a replica of the Qur’an, a move they warned could spark violence.
Abdul Ali Mazari, a leader of the predominantly Shiite minority who was executed as a prisoner of the Taliban during their first term in power, was depicted in the original statue.
The statue was decapitated by a rocket-propelled grenade shortly after the Taliban retook power in August, in an incident blamed on the hard-line Islamists by residents of the city in central Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s stringent interpretation of Islam outlaws the depiction of the human form in paintings, sculptures, and, in extreme situations, printed pictures.
Since the group’s control, many companies have removed or covered up billboards and posters featuring individuals.
“They fully dismantled the statue yesterday and replaced it with a Qur’an replica,” Abdul Danishyar, a civil society activist in Bamiyan, said.
“They are attempting to erase Bamiyan’s heritage, and the people will retaliate forcefully,” he told AFP.
Mazari’s statue was in the heart of Bamiyan’s central square, where the Taliban detonated two gigantic 1,500-year-old Buddha sculptures in 2001, just before the US invasion that drove them out.
According to Danishyar, the square named for Mazari has been renamed “military street.”
A member of the Bamiyan provincial council, Abdul Ali Shafaq, told AFP he will speak with Taliban authorities and encourage them to rethink their decision.
“This is a highly delicate matter,” he continued, “and it may cause reactions.”
“The people of Bamiyan adore Mazari, and they were constructing a new statue to replace the one that had been partially damaged.”
Mazari, an outspoken anti-Taliban militia leader, was assassinated by the Taliban in 1995 after being kidnapped.
They claimed they shot him after he attempted to take one of his guards’ guns while being transported by helicopter.
In 2016, outgoing president Ashraf Ghani declared him a “Martyr for National Unity of Afghanistan.”
In a country split apart by ethnic and religious conflicts, the largely Shiite Hazara population, which makes up roughly 10% of Afghanistan’s almost 38 million inhabitants, has long been tormented by Sunni extremists such as the Daesh group.