The Buddha of Swat, carved on a cliff in the seventh century, was blown up by the Pakistani Taliban in 2007. Now it has been restored, a powerful symbol of tolerance in the traumatised Pakistani valley.

This photo taken on April 26, 2018 shows Pakistani visitors walking past the seventh-century rock sculpture of a seated Buddha carved into a mountain in Jahanabad town in the northwestern Swat Valley of Pakistan, following a restoration process conducted by Italian archaeologists after the Taliban defaced it in 2007.
This photo taken on April 26, 2018 shows Pakistani visitors walking past the seventh-century rock sculpture of a seated Buddha carved into a mountain in Jahanabad town in the northwestern Swat Valley of Pakistan, following a restoration process conducted by Italian archaeologists after the Taliban defaced it in 2007. ( AFP )

The figure of Buddha, depicted in a lotus position at the base of a granite cliff in northern Pakistan, was severely damaged by Taliban insurgents in an echo of the Afghan Taliban's complete destruction of its more imposing counterparts in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001.

This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows a centuries-old stupa, a dome-shaped Buddhist monument, in the town of Amluk Dara near Mingora in Swat Valley of Pakistan.
This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows a centuries-old stupa, a dome-shaped Buddhist monument, in the town of Amluk Dara near Mingora in Swat Valley of Pakistan. ( AFP )

For some, it was a wanton act of vandalism that struck at the heart of the area's unique history and identity. 

But other Swatis, less familiar with history and in 2007 not yet traumatised by the full brutality of the Taliban, applauded the attack and took up the argument that sculpture was "anti-Islamic."  Some people in Swat, however, see the Buddha as a tool for promoting religious tolerance.

The Buddha sits in Jahanabad, the epicentre of Swat's Buddhist heritage, a beautiful valley in the foothills of the Himalayas. 

This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows Pakistani visitors arriving to see the centuries-old Buddhist monument, in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows Pakistani visitors arriving to see the centuries-old Buddhist monument, in Pakistan's Swat Valley. ( AFP )

There the Italian government has been helping to preserve hundreds of archaeological sites, working with local authorities who hope to turn it into a place of pilgrimage once more and pull in sorely needed tourist dollars.

The Italian government has invested $2.9 million (2.5 million euros) in five years for the preservation of Swat's cultural heritage, striving to involve the local population as much as possible. 

This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows Italian archaeologist Luca Maria Olivieri looking through the remains of the destroyed Buddha in the town of Mingora in northwest Pakistan.
This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows Italian archaeologist Luca Maria Olivieri looking through the remains of the destroyed Buddha in the town of Mingora in northwest Pakistan. ( AFP )

Authorities are counting on the Buddha's recovered smile and iconic status to boost religious tourism from places such as China and Thailand.

This photo taken on April 26, 2018 shows a Pakistani soldier walking past the seventh-century rock sculpture of a seated Buddha carved into a mountain in Jahanabad town in the northwestern Swat Valley of Pakistan, following a restoration process conducted by Italian archaeologists after the Taliban defaced it in 2007.
This photo taken on April 26, 2018 shows a Pakistani soldier walking past the seventh-century rock sculpture of a seated Buddha carved into a mountain in Jahanabad town in the northwestern Swat Valley of Pakistan, following a restoration process conducted by Italian archaeologists after the Taliban defaced it in 2007. ( AFP )

A decade ago, Taliban militants climbed the six-metre (20-foot) effigy to lay the explosives, but only part of them were triggered, demolishing the top of the Buddha's face. Another, smaller fresco nearby was torn to pieces.

This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows a worker cleaning statues of Buddha at a museum in the town of Mingora in Pakistan.
This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows a worker cleaning statues of Buddha at a museum in the town of Mingora in Pakistan. ( AFP )

The episode became a marker for the beginning of the Taliban's violent occupation of Swat, which would only end in 2009 with heavy intervention by the Pakistan army. By then, the army says over 1,000 people, mostly militants, had been killed and more than 1.5 million displaced.

This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows a worker cleaning a rock with images of Buddha's feet at a museum in the town of Mingora, the capital of Pakistan's Swat Valley.
This photo taken on April 27, 2018 shows a worker cleaning a rock with images of Buddha's feet at a museum in the town of Mingora, the capital of Pakistan's Swat Valley. ( AFP )
Source: AFP