Diamer Bhasha Dam An apocalypse for Buddhist Vestiges in Baltistan

Satish Singh Lalotra
‘Societies in decline have no use for visionaries”
The world over civilizations have progressed by leaps and bounds by drawing inspirations from past ,often doing course correction as time and situations evolved suiting their requirements.
It has been a time and tested formula to judge their progress in evolution of human facets of excellence by keeping past standards as bearer of future benchmarks and surpassing them as time progresses. As stated in the quote above ,societies in decline have no use for visionaries ,in the similar vein ,a thing of excellence in the past may become a vestigial organ if no longer preserved.
Buddhism in Baltisthan of erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir state took roots some two thousand three hundred years back under the Mauryan empire of Ashoka the Great. The four provinces of Gilgit,Hunza,Nagar and Baltisthan had associated with Buddhism from late seventh century ,when most of the masses were practicing the Bon religion .Baltisthan had Buddhist majority till the late fifteenth century ,before the advent of Islam in this region. Since most of the people in this region have now converted to Islam the presence of Buddhism in this region has now been limited to archeological sites ,as the remaining Buddhist population moved to east viz Ladakh ,where Buddhism is the majority religion .
As per the National data base and registration authority (NARA) of Pakistan the contemporary Buddhist population of Northern areas was now a miniscule one thousand four hundred and ninety two individual adults with majority of them having moved to Sind in Pakistan .Baltisthan and northern areas of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir have been a reservoir of Buddhist manuscripts ,rock edicts ,stone carvings ,sculptures etc scattered in places like Diamer, Hunza ,Nagar since ages.All these are going to under go an apocalyptic change if Pakistan has its way of constructing the world’s biggest concrete filled Gravity dam the Diamer Bhasha dam without an alternative plan of restoration of these priceless Buddhist edicts in times to come. The dam being built on river Indus between Kohisthan in Khyber agency and Diamer district in Gilgit Baltisthan a joint venture of China power and the FWO(Frontier works organisation) of Pakistan with four hundred and forty two billion contract will sound a death knell for the Buddhist civilization in this part of the world.
Diamer Bhasha dam’s foundation was laid by the then Pakistan PM, Nawaz Sharief way back in 1998 and is located at a place called as Bhasha which is forty kilometers down stream of Chilas town and three hundred and fifteen kilometers from Tarbela dam .Gilgit Baltisthan is home to some of the most ancient and exquisite cultural heritage sites of Buddhism which are now tentatively UNESCO protected sites .Some of these sites according to Pakistan environment protection agency are tabulated below to have an easy comprehension.
Its generally believed that these Buddha rock carvings are 269 to 232 BC old made during emperor Ashoka’s time .All these are basically relics of old Indus river which used to pass through the Gilgit Baltisthan area and over a period of time the river too changed its course.Its said that Lord Buddha sent missionaries to neighbouring countries during the time of Ashoka the Great ,when buildings like the monasteries ,stupas were erected as also the production of Buddha images on the rocks .As per statesman dot com a renowned archaeologist Dr Ahmed Hasnan Dani all these rock edicts are divided into four distinct classes with the oldest stone carving going back to 2nd century BC or even 5th/6th BC .Recently His Holiness Dalai Lama went on a visit to Leh ,when he too voiced concern regarding the threat of Diamer Bhasha Dam looming large over these priceless Buddhist treasure trove. Its not very far off in the time line when in 2001 the Taliban destroyed the UNESCO heritage site of Bamiyan Buddha with artillery guns in direct firing causing a world of uproar and a world poorer of priceless items of yore. Its not very late to exhort Pakistan to get its act together and take concrete steps for the safe guard of these sites lest time and tide of events make the humanity wrench its hands in despair.
(The writer is a Retired Colonel from the army.)