March 2001 – Official invitation to visit the Buddha statues The journey to Mazar-E-Sharif was exhausting but highly interesting. For me it became clear that the Taliban government in Kabul seems to be quite powerful. In the north, where we were, it certainly isn’t. In the hotel there seem to have arrived quite a few

March 2001 – Official invitation to visit the Buddha statues

The journey to Mazar-E-Sharif was exhausting but highly interesting. For me it became clear that the Taliban government in Kabul seems to be quite powerful. In the north, where we were, it certainly isn’t.

In the hotel there seem to have arrived quite a few foreigners. Asian faces are particularly striking. I want to take a quick shower, if there is water, and then get something to eat. Mustafa wants to wait downstairs in the hotel and later meet us in the restaurant. When I get out of the groaning elevator after half an hour in the lobby, Mustafa is unusually excited. “Dieter, we have to pack up again immediately,” he tells me breathlessly. “Tomorrow morning flights to Bamiyan have been booked for Kay, you and me.” Many other journalists would also come, and people from the BBC and Japanese television would also be there. It would be an official invitation of the government to visit the two big Buddha statues and it would not be possible to cancel this invitation. Why our watch-dog is so nervous now, the day before, he cannot explain to me. Briefly I talk to the colleagues from the BBC, but they also have no further information about the official press trip tomorrow morning. After all, they too can confirm that there has never been anything like this under the Taliban government. A little later we will have dinner together in the hotel restaurant. There is Qabuli pilaf and cola.

The “Little Buddha” near Bamiyan before destruction – Foto: Volker Thorwaldt

In the morning at six there is a coach in front of the door. A Mercedes O309, as it is built in Iran from the end of the 60’s with a license from Mercedes-Benz. Presumably with the Islamic revolution in 1979 this license expired – the bus was still in production. The vehicle has 20 seats, 18 of which are occupied. The luggage compartment behind the last row is too small for what TV people have to carry around. In the aisle there are boxes, tripods are lying across the thighs of the colleagues. After a good half hour we are at the airport. No passport control, no baggage control, straight out onto the airfield. No surprise: there is the old Antonov AN-24. Even the flight captain is the same as on our flight to Mazar-E-Sharif and back.

It’s amazing that the government is spending money on this flight. On the road it’s just about 180 kilometers to Bamiyan. As the crow flies, it’s hardly 130. Storing the luggage in the plane takes a little while and the plane is not yet refuelled. While we passengers stand next to the plane, kerosene is pumped into the wings from the tanker. Anyway, it seems that nobody is in a hurry. When finally journalists and government officials are sitting in the Antonov, there is a short greeting from the captain, in which he naturally wishes us a good flight and announces a flight time of about 25 minutes. Well, maybe better than going up there by bus…

Perfectly organised. After landing, the engines are just switched off, there is already another bus waiting for us. The vehicle is a bit bigger, no crowds with the luggage. Still none of us journalists knows what to expect here. Passing the city of Bamiyan the bus drives up a small hill from where we can see the two statues. Get out of the bus and shoot a “long shot” is the order of the day. One of our companions speaks excitedly into his two way radio. There would be something interesting to see over there, he shouts and asks us to align the cameras. One minute later both of the Buddha statues are blown up. A series of explosions can be seen and after one or two seconds they can also be heard. When after a few minutes the dust has cleared away, both Buddhas are destroyed, rubble and debris are lying in the niches where the holy statues were just standing.

“Cave” of the Little Buddha after the statue was destroyed by the Taliban – Foto: Carlos Ugarte

I can hardly believe it. Two such fascinating and culturally valuable statues are simply blown up. I knew them quite well. In the year 1973 I have already been sitting at the feet of the two Buddhas.

“A good Muslim would find such ‘idols’ repulsive,” a man in a turban tells us, “the sight would be unbearable. In an Islamic emirate like Afghanistan has been for about five years, all such un-Islamic symbols would have to be removed or destroyed”. On the bus back to the airport I see two of the Japanese colleagues crying.

The next chapter of my Afghanistan Diary will be published on 18 February 2020. It will be titled “March 2001 – 12 hours by car – for just 150 Kilometres” New chapters will follow fortnightly – more than 60 will be published in total. Please scroll further down for subscription.

Dieter Herrmann, the author of this Afghanistan diary, lives in Australia, reports from there for German television stations and is editor-in-chief of the only German-language newspaper in Australia. He is known as a media trainer for radio and television stations all over the world as well as media trainer for senior managers, officers and pilots. To get in touch with the author and for further information on media training by Dieter and his crew please use the “contact”-button or send an email to dieter(at) (please replace the (at) with the @-sign!)

My first trip to Afghanistan started in the early summer of 1973. Since then I have been to the country at the Hindu Kush more than 100 times and in total have spent several years in Afghanistan. I got to know all political systems from the kingdom up to the today’s Islamic Republic. In about 60 chapters, based on diaries and memories, I describe my experiences in the country, which has not come to a rest since 1973. Among many other experiences, I was arrested and imprisoned twice during this time, had to live temporarily in the bunker of the Turkish embassy and had an amazing interview with Mullah Muttawakil, the personal spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar and later Taliban Foreign Minister. I describe my personal feelings and doubts as well as political and human events, movements in the population and developments in the country. Nothing about this manuscript has been invented or added – however, to avoid endangering anyone, I left out some of my experiences. I changed some names to protect friends and informants. Whether the last chapter will ever be finished is questionable. I was supposed to be back in Kabul in 2018, but the security situation is so bad that my clients are unlikely to get me into the country. “German media trainer murdered by Taliban” would be a catastrophic headline for everyone involved. Dieter Herrmann

Translation from German to English with the help of  

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