Bid to smuggle 2,000-year-old artifacts out of Pakistan foiled
Karachi: Two-thousand-year-old statues and coins – worth billions of rupees — belonging to the Gandhara Civilisation were recovered when the Awami Colony police foiled a bid to smuggle the artefacts in the wee hours of Friday.
Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Landhi Mirza Abdul Majeed told The News that a tip-off informed them about the smuggling attempt and, subsequently, the police intercepted a container heading towards the north of the country. A search of the truck resulted in the recovery of priceless statues dating back some 2,000 years.
The driver and the cleaner of the vehicle were arrested on the spot and during the initial interrogation the held men revealed that the goods belonged to two brothers named Atif and Asif Butt. They also said that the statues were picked up from a warehouse in Ibrahim Hyderi and were bound for Rawalpindi via Sialkot.
Mirza told The News that the containers were filled with brooms, but when the police dug deeper, they found wooden boxes in which the artefacts were concealed. The SDPO said that after recovering the priceless statues and ancient coins, the police informed the Archaeology Department, which sent a team of officials to the scene.
The officials confirmed that the artefacts recovered were at least 2,000 years old and belonged to the Gandhara civilisation. The SDPO added that 35 statues and 65 ancient coins were recovered, while nine of the boxes that were seized had yet to be opened.
Additional Secretary Archaeology Department, while speaking to The News, said that the police informed the department that they were about to register a theft case. However, Director Archaeology Department Qasim Ali Qasim told them that the case should be registered under the Antiques Act of 1975.
A team – headed by National Museum of Pakistan curators Mohammad Shah Bulhari and Ijaz Elahi – was formed to inspect the artefacts. It managed to complete around 30 percent of the inspection, while the remaining documentation and photography would be completed by Saturday (today).
News Desk adds: Meanwhile, Police Deputy Superintendent Majeed Abbas told the BBC that the artefacts are thought to come from the kingdom of Gandhara, which spanned northern Pakistan and parts of eastern Afghanistan.
“These artefacts were loaded in a container – and were so heavy – we had to call specific machines and a forklift truck to offload them carefully.”
Abbas said that the two men arrested told police that the artefacts were brought to Karachi six months ago for a sales deal.
The deal was cancelled and the men told the police they then tried to take the antiquities to Rawalpindi.
The haul included statues of Buddha, life-sized idols, bronze artefacts, utensils and decorative plaques, Qasim Ali Qasim told AFP.
Qasim believed the items were brought to Karachi a piece or two at a time and were ready for dispatch to Europe overland via Afghanistan and Central Asia.
“The thieves and mafias involved in this business dig in the northwest, which is filled with Gandhara sites with little control by the authorities,” Qasim said.
“They dug up ancient pieces were accumulated in Karachi and then sent to Afghanistan in the garb of a Nato vehicle when they saw Pakistan has reopened the route.”
Gandhara was a Buddhist civilisation that flourished around the modern-day city of Peshawar and in parts of eastern Afghanistan.