Vandalism by State-sponsored Islamic radicals, a dwindling Buddhist population, and a deceptive government policy make Buddhism at risk of disappearing from the country.
by Chandan Kumar
Buddhism, one of the world’s most ancient religions, once flourished in what is now Pakistan, particularly in the Gandhara region. With its rich heritage of Buddhist art and culture, Pakistan should be a haven for Buddhists and a site of pilgrimage. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Pakistan’s state-sponsored radical elements, the near-zero Buddhist population, and deceptive government activities are contributing to the destruction of Buddhism in the country.
Table of Contents
State-sponsored radical elements
One of the most significant factors contributing to the destruction of Buddhism in Pakistan is the presence and influence of state-sponsored Islamic radical elements. These extremist groups, often backed by elements within the government, have actively targeted religious minorities, including Buddhists. The result has been the exodus of many Buddhists from the region due to violence and persecution. The rise of radicalism in Pakistan has also led to the destruction of Buddhist heritage sites and artifacts. The Taliban’s infamous blowing up of the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in neighbouring Afghanistan sent shockwaves through the Buddhist world. While the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan garnered international attention, similar acts of vandalism have occurred in Pakistan with little global outcry.
Zero percent Buddhist population
Despite the historical significance of Buddhism in the region, Pakistan today has a negligible Buddhist population, close to zero percent. This dramatic decline is not due to natural demographic shifts but is rather a consequence of persecution, discrimination, and violence against Buddhists. The dwindling Buddhist community in Pakistan reflects a tragic reality of how religious extremism has succeeded in eradicating a once-thriving religious and cultural group. Many Buddhists who remain in Pakistan live in fear for their safety and have been forced to conceal their religious identity.
Government’s deceptive actions
The Pakistani government’s actions with regard to Buddhism often paint a misleading picture to the international community. They organize events such as Buddhist monk tours, Varsa Vassa, and the Gandhara Symposium to showcase their commitment to the preservation of Buddhist heritage sites. However, these activities often amount to little more than token gestures meant to distract from the harsh realities on the ground.
-Buddhist monk tours: The government occasionally organizes tours for Buddhist monks, showcasing Gandhara’s historical sites. While these tours may provide short-term visibility, they do little to address the systemic issues faced by the Buddhist community.
-Varsa Vassa: Varsa Vassa, a traditional Buddhist practice, is celebrated in Pakistan with much fanfare, but this celebration lacks authenticity as it is performed by a nearly nonexistent Buddhist population. It is more of a cultural show than a genuine religious practice.
-Gandhara Symposium: The Gandhara Symposium, an international event, is hosted to discuss and promote the preservation of Gandhara’s Buddhist heritage. Yet, these discussions often seem superficial when contrasted with the grim realities of Buddhist persecution within Pakistan.
The government’s efforts to project an image of tolerance and respect for Buddhism ring hollow when the very people it claims to protect continue to face discrimination and violence.
The destruction of Buddhism in Pakistan is a tragedy of immense proportions. This region was once a thriving center of Buddhist civilization, boasting numerous monasteries, stupas, and artifacts that stood as testaments to its rich history. Today, these remnants are under threat, and the Buddhist community has been marginalized and persecuted.
The influence of state-sponsored radical elements, coupled with a near-zero Buddhist population, paints a bleak picture for the future of Buddhism in Pakistan. The government’s deceptive actions, such as organizing tours and symposiums, cannot hide the harsh realities on the ground.
Pakistan’s ongoing financial crisis has dire consequences for the preservation of its rich Buddhist heritage. With limited resources available for cultural preservation, historical Buddhist sites, monasteries, and artifacts are facing neglect and a lack of maintenance. The financial strain also leads to underfunded security measures, increasing the risk of theft and vandalism. Inadequate security can result in the illegal excavation and looting of valuable artifacts, which may end up in the international black market.
The financial crisis may inadvertently encourage illicit trade in Buddhist artifacts, as individuals desperate for income may resort to looting and selling stolen items. Additionally, the decline in tourism due to reduced infrastructure and promotional activities further impacts the local economy and diminishes the incentive to protect and preserve these historical treasures.
It is crucial for the international community to hold Pakistan accountable for its treatment of religious minorities, including Buddhists. Genuine efforts to protect and preserve Buddhist heritage sites and ensure the safety and well-being of the remaining Buddhist community are needed. Only through true commitment to religious tolerance and cultural preservation can Pakistan hope to reverse the tragic trend of Buddhism’s destruction within its borders.