The fate of over 300 priceless Gandhara Civilisation relics recovered in a foiled smuggling bid hangs in the balance as the priceless artefacts remain at both the Awami police station and a warehouse in Korangi, while the culture department seeks their legal custody.
Additional Secretary Culture Department Sindh Ashfaque Hussain told The News that an application had been moved in the court on Monday. He added that the court was asked to handover possession of the 2,000 year old statues to the department.
“The pieces have become evidence in a case and can only be taken into possession and moved to museums and other places after the court’s order,” Hussain said. The additional secretary maintained that the department had the tools needed to keep the artefacts protected.
“The department is certain that the court will issue the orders as soon as possible. Then we will be able to shift the valuables without further delay,” he concluded.
Also talking to The News, Sindh Culture Minister Sassui Palijo said that once her department takes possession of the Gandhara relics, they would be housed at the National Museum of Pakistan for safekeeping till the political leadership decided their fate. She said she had heard that the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government had demanded the transfer of the statues, however, Palijo clarified that Peshawar had yet to formally approach the Sindh government over their possession.
Palijo revealed that the culture department would also submit an application before the Home Department, asking that an archeologist be included in the police investigation team.
The minister said her department was in constant contact with the home and police authorities as there were reports that some of the artefacts sustained minor damage during the police action and subsequent transfer.
She said that for the time being, the artefacts were the police’s domain as they were not stolen from a museum. It needed to be properly determined whether the artefacts were stolen or being smuggled, she maintained.
Palijo pointed out that the punishment for smuggling archaeological relics was just six months and a small fine. She added that since archeology had become a provincial subject after the18th Amendment, the culture department was considering seeking an increased prison term to discourage the theft of ancient artefacts.
Culture Department Secretary Abdul Aziz Uqaili said that according the initial report, the Gandhara relics were not stolen from a museum in the country. He said there were over 300 items seized in the police action, while more relics were recovered in another raid in Korangi. Uqaili said the department needed to determine the origin of the relics as Gandhara artefacts could be found from Taxila in Pakistan through to Jalalabad in Afghanistan. He believed Gandhara civilisation relics also existed in Sindh.
Meanwhile, the police on Monday finally registered a first information report (FIR) against the driver and cleaner who were caught smuggling the relics last week.
Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Mirza Abdul Majeed said that a total of 303 pieces, worth billions of rupees, were recovered. The driver and the cleaner were arrested after the police intercepted their vehicle carrying a container with the national assets while it was headed to Rawalpindi via Sialkot.
SDPO Majeed told The News that FIR No236/12 was registered under section 26/27/29/32/34 of Instada-e-Tahufazay Nauedaurat Act 34TP, 1976 Act. He highlighted that the largest and heaviest among all the statues was a large Buddha, which had an estimated value of US$140 million in the international market.
However, The News learnt that many of the pieces were still at the warehouse in which they were discovered. Replying to a question, the SDPO said that the concerned departments had yet to contact the police and take the artefacts into their possession.
The Awami Colony police pointed out that they do not have the necessary facilities or equipment to keep the valuable items protected. “We do not even have enough extra men to deploy at the warehouse,” the duty officer claimed.