PESHAWAR – The Malakand administration has seized an antique Buddhist statue during a raid at a house, officials said on Thursday.
“We raided a house in Township on the basis of intelligence information that the family was in possession of the figurine,” Sohail Khan, the deputy commissioner of Malakand district, told The Express Tribune.
“The raid was led by Muhibullah Khan, the assistant commissioner of Batkhela,” he said. “The statue was buried in the ground,” he added. “The antique and the man were taken into custody.” “We will hand over the figurine – measuring 3.5 feet in length and 1.5 feet in width – to the K-P Archaeological Department after fulfilling all legal formalities,” Sohail Khan said.
Five districts of Malakand Division along with Charsadda, Mardan, Peshawar and Swabi were once the cradle of Gandhara civilisation. And for that reason, this region has never lost its lure for treasure-hunters.
There are 1,000 Buddhist archaeological sites in Swat alone. “Due to lack of interest from the government these sites have repeatedly been dug up by treasure hunters,” local journalist Fazal Khaliq claimed. “They excavate relics and then smuggle them to Gulf countries.” An Archaeology Department official said Swat has long been a magnet for antique smugglers who have contacts in Thailand, Afghanistan via their agents in Dubai.
“The smuggling of relics and artifacts has become easier due to the ongoing unrest in Afghanistan. The smugglers use air cargo services in Kabul for transporting the antiques to Dubai,” the official added while speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The antiques are first smuggled to Peshawar from where they are flown to Kabul airport,” he added.
After Swat, the remote Buner district has also become an attractive destination for treasure-hunters and antiques smugglers where full scale excavation has been ongoing away from the official attention.
“This international trade is worth millions of dollars in which government officials are also involved,” the Archaeology Department official said. “It’s 10 times more lucrative than drugs smuggling.”