When Taliban militants were expelled from Pakistan's north-west Swat region, many people thought it would be good for the area's ancient Buddhist heritage, which was under attack from the rebels. I think the illegal digging of the historical structures has increased after the fall of the Taliban. They banned it and strictly punished those involved in it,” said Nasir Khan, a senior official at Taxila Museum, one of the main repositories of Gandhara-period items.
Official apathy, corruption and the mountainous terrain make it easy for small, clandestine digs.Azeem says post-Taliban local administrations do not share the militants' hatred for the pre-Islamic historical sites.“The elements of corruption cannot be ruled out but there is no official complicity in the illegal excavations,” he said. “Officials know that it is against law and they take action against people involved in it.”It is believed that local residents and expert outside looters are involved in unauthorised excavations. Stolen artifacts are sold to various dealers who send them to the southern port of Karachi.International dealers involved with smugglers then ship the rare relics to Europe or the United Arab Emirates.
Police in Karachi intercepted a truck on July 8, recovered more than 300 iterms and arrested two people.Agents then raided a building in the city's Korangi district and seized a quantity of small artifacts and two crates containing giant sculptures that each weighed more than 5 tons.Qasim Ali Qasim, director of Sindh province's archaeology department, said they belonged to the Gandhara era but their exact age would be determined after analysis.
“The recovered articles are truly priceless, but for the sake of an estimate we can say that their value is more than 10 million dollars,” he said.Shabir said initial police investigation showed links with people living in Islamabad and nearby areas of lawless Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where the majority of Gandhara-period sites, including the ruins of Swat, are located.
Improved security since the militants were driven out has increased the number of people coming to see the pine-clad valleys and snow-covered mountains of Swat.The ouster of the Taliban may have saved the objects from religious vandalism, but it has also led to a rise in fortune seekers coming to find the rare objects.
“Now everyone can go there unchecked,” said Nasir Khan of Taxila Museum.
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