KABUL (AP)--The order to destroy ancient statues from Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past followed a decision by 400 religious clerics from across the country, who declared them against the tenets of Islam, Information and Culture Minister Qadratullah Jamal said Saturday.
"Once their decision was made and the ruling was issued we had no choice, we had to follow it," Jamal told The Associated Press in an interview in the beleaguered Afghan capital.
"They came out with a consensus that the statues were unIslamic," he said.
Even the Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who has taken the title Amir-ul Momineen or King of the Muslims, couldn't deviate from their decision, said Jamal.
He had to issue the demolition order.
The order, which resulted in the destruction of two towering statues of Buddha in central Bamiyan as well as thousands of smaller statues in museums throughout the country, generated international outrage.
On Saturday Pierre Lafrance, the special UNESCO envoy sent from Paris to try to save the statues, met Jamal to plead for the preservation of other historic sites in the country.
Jamal said Lafrance would be told "we did not have any choice after the decision of the ulema (clerics), but we are prepared to care for other artifacts. It was only the statues that were unIslamic."
The destruction order, issued by Omar last month, generated an international outcry that resulted in a flurry of messages and delegations to the Taliban headquarters in southern Kandahar to plead for their safety.
Even the Taliban's closest ally, Pakistan - one of only three country's to give official recognition to the Taliban - asked them to stop.
But Jamal said that even their closest friends didn't argue with the Taliban's interpretation that statues were idolatrous.
Rather he said they argued that the Taliban should be pragmatic and consider world opinion.
"They said we should be expedient, but no one said that we were not acting according to Islam and Shariat (Islamic law)," said Jamal. "But we are an Islamic country and we had no choice."
At the heart of the outcry was two giant statues carved in the 3rd and 5th centuries from a mountain side in central Afghanistan's Bamiyan province. The tallest of the two, standing 51 meters was believed to be the world's tallest standing Buddha. The smaller statue was 36 meters.