First lady Laura Bush arrived in Afghanistan Sunday for a half-day visit meant to highlight the progress the nation has made since the fall of the Taliban.
The first lady was scheduled to visit Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai and American troops. She also visited Bamiyan province, where two giant statues of Buddha, carved into sandstone cliffs centuries ago, were demolished by the ruling Taliban regime in March 2001.
At Bamiyan, the first lady met with female trainees of a police training center and toured the construction site for an orphanage that is being funded by the Afghan-U.S. Women’s Council of which Bush is an honorary co-chair.
Bush has been a long-time advocate of spotlighting education of women who were denied access to it during the Taliban rule. She was accompanied by Habiba Surabi, the first woman to be appointed a provincial governor in Afghanistan
Bamiyan, the first lady told reporters, is “one of those parts of Afghanistan that I think everyone has watched and looked at over the years since we first heard about the Buddhas.”
The two colossal 6th-century statues of Buddhas stood at the mouth of the caves in Bamiyan, about 80 miles (130 km) northwest of Kabul. At heights of 175 feet (53 meters) and 120 feet (36 meters), the statues were the tallest-standing Buddhas in the world.
In March 2001, the Taliban used explosives to blow up the statues on the grounds that they were un-Islamic. The action drew international condemnation.
Later that year, U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
Now, the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, is trying to restore the bigger of the two statues, a task that could take years.
Bush said that going to Bamiyan will highlight the progress Afghanistan has made since the Taliban’s ouster. She recounted to reporters what Afghan women have told her.
“‘We’re really afraid, we think this our chance right now and if we don’t get this chance, and if Afghanistan backslides back into the Taliban then we’ll never get it,'” she said she was told. “And it’s more important than ever for the international community to support Afghanistan, certainly for the United States to support Afghanistan … because we don’t want it to be the way it was when the Buddhas were destroyed.”
It is the first lady’s third visit to Afghanistan. The last time the first lady visited the country was March 2006 with President Bush.
On Thursday, the first lady is scheduled to address a donors conference in Paris. The host country, France, has set a goal of raising between $12 billion and $15 billion to help Afghanistan’s reconstruction efforts.
Originally found @ CNN.com