Italian and Pakistani archeologists made the exciting discovery. Religious prejudice explains the low vigilance against vandalism.
by Massimo Introvigne
In December 2021, the Italian Embassy in Pakistan announced that, working together with Pakistani colleagues, Italian archeologists had unearthed what may well be the oldest Buddhist temple in the country. It is located in the Bazira area of Barikot tehsil in Swat and dates back to the 3rd century BCE.
Italian archeologists said the discovery was of revolutionary importance since it proved the presence of Buddhism in Swat since the 3rd century. Coins by Indo-Greek ruler Menander found at the location also confirmed the theory that the king supported Buddhism.
It is believed that the Swat district still hides archeological treasures, and in fact only 5% of the area with archeological potential has been excavated.
In the past, the public order and religious situation of the area had created problems.According to the newspaper Dawn, before the most recent excavations locals who were aware of the presence of Buddhist relics there had vandalized and looted the site.
Dawn commented that the endemic ineffectiveness of the police is only part of the story. The police may look the other side because Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, like their counterparts in Afghanistan, do not want new historical Buddhist sites to be open to the public.
“In the fever of the religious obscurantism that continues to envelop and engulf [Pakistan], the newspaper commented, the very presence of the Buddhas presents a threat to some elements. Those who pursue this line of infantilized thinking, fear that Muslims might start revering the inanimate figures of the Buddha and that individual Muslims may not be strong enough nor intellectually robust enough to withstand the allure of these figures.”
This also poses a problem to Pakistani museums, where Buddhist and other non-Muslim artifacts are sometimes not displayed for fear of criticism by Muslim fundamentalists.