[INDOLOGY] Protection of Afghanistan Buddhist site (Mes Aynak): letter for the Afghan President

Royce Wiles royce.wiles at gmail.com
Wed Jul 31 04:56:59 UTC 2019

Below is the text of two messages from Jolyon LESLIE (Kabul) (who is not on this list): I fully support this, do please send all/any responses directly to Jolyon (his email is below):


I'm writing to seek your support in efforts to ensure that the archaeological remains at Mes Aynak in Logar are documented and preserved. Most of you will know the recent history of the site, where a Chinese consortium was in 2008 granted a concession to mine copper, although insecurity (among other factors) has limited their investments to date. It seems that the presence of archaeological remains was not part of the original agreement with the Chinese, even though Afghan officials should have been aware of these. 

Since 2010, the World Bank has supported 'rescue' archaeology at Mes Aynak that continues to this day and the findings were the subject of a presentation at a symposium in Kabul last week at which (after a site visit) officials from the Ministries of Culture and Mining made a their respective cases for preservation and/or mining at the site. The meeting was convened at the suggestion of the President, who expressed a wish for clear recommendations from Afghan and international professionals to enable the government to make a decision whether to renegotiate the mining agreement and, if so, on what terms. Those of us advocating for preservation at the meeting last week faced a formidable team WB-funded (expatriate) advisers to Mo.O. Mines who made a strident case for open-cast mining of copper at Mes Aynak as the only 'affordable option'. This would effectively obliterate the historic city - although it was conceded that a single monument might be retained 'for tourism'. The option of mining through underground shafts (that might enable preservation of more of the surface remains) was, it was argued by this group, not 'cost-effective'. In response, cultural specialists explained the significance of the site, not only for the remarkable objects that continue to be excavated, but because the extent of an historic industrial city whose very landscape (with Buddhist-era mine-shafts and smelting facilities) have the potential to enhance our understanding of technology, trade, beliefs and related cultural activity at that time. 

I am not aware of the details of recommendations that were subsequently presented to President Ghani last week, but a number of us in Kabul have the sense that we need to strengthen the case for cultural preservation at Mes Aynak at this critical time. An Afghan colleague who was at the post-symposium presentation at the palace reported that the President himself tacitly suggested a 'global alliance for cultural preservation' be formed to support government efforts to safeguard the site. 

In subsequent discussions in Kabul, we have resolved to prepare an 'open letter' signed by Afghan and international specialists urging the President to avoid destruction of the site by open-cast mining. The letter would convey the concerns of a coalition of cultural 'heavy-hitters' by drawing attention to the importance of Mes Aynak, especially in the context of the loss of cultural heritage in the country in the recent past - while making it clear that the world is watching. Clearly the text of an 'open letter' would need to be carefully-worded so as not to be perceived as interfering in decisions made by the Afghan government policy - but it was the President who took the initiative to seek a range of views on this issue. 

I'm writing now mainly to solicit your views and ask whether you'd be prepared to mobilise your respective networks (of academics and others) to put their names to such a letter, once a text is agreed. In the face of a well-funded mining lobby, we clearly need to up our game in putting a case for preservation of Mes Aynak. From the perspective of Kabul, communicating a shared concern of a wide range of well-informed Afghan and international cultural specialists in an 'open letter' to the President might contribute to a more balanced assessment of the options his government faces. 

I look forward to hearing from you with your views. 



> Begin forwarded message:
> From: Jolyon Leslie <jolyonleslie at yahoo.com>
> Subject: Mes Aynak
> Date: 30 July 2019 at 18:33:42 NZST
> To: Dr J L Lee <jonathanlee.nz at gmail.com>
> Cc: royce.wiles at gmail.com
> Dear Jonathan and Royce,
> [SNIP] Royce. If we can cast our net wider and get more academics to sign up, I believe that it'll lend additional weight to the initiative. I attach the latest iteration of the 'open letter' - I don't envisage major changes so it's probably best to circulate among your network now so that they can get the gist of what we're petitioning for and offering.
> Jonathan, I agree that Academia.edu might be a good platform once we've delivered the letter to the Palace and the relevant Ministries. This implies that the list of signatories will by then be finalised, so maybe we can think of a two-stage process, asking additional people to express their support in some way. Given my limited connectivity, is this something that either of you would be in a position to assist with? 
> [SNIP]
> Best,
> Jolyon

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