Pakistan police foil huge artefact smuggling attempt

By Jaffer Rizvi
BBC Urdu, Karachi

image captionThe haul is similar to that recovered by officials in 2005

An attempt to smuggle ancient artefacts, possibly worth millions of dollars, out of the Pakistani port city of Karachi has been foiled, police say.

A top archaeologist has said the goods are at least 2,000 years old and were illegally excavated. Police have called in experts to help assess their value.

Two men caught trying to ship the items have been arrested, police say.

Karachi is often used by smugglers who can get criminal support to take valuable antiquities out of country.

Customs officers in 2005 foiled a similar attempt to smuggle nearly 1,500 artefacts worth more than $10m (£6.4m) out of Pakistan.

Some of the antiquities found in a container marked "furniture" at that time were 7,000 years old, archaeologists said.

'So heavy'

Police Deputy Superintendent Majeed Abbas told the BBC that police conducted the raid in the eastern part of Karachi in the early hours of Friday morning.

The artefacts are thought to have 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," Mr Abbas said.

"We had to call specific machines and a forklift truck to download them carefully."

Mr 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.

"But the papers we've recovered from the vehicle show a different destination. [They suggest that] the vehicle was on its way to Sialkot City of Punjab province, probably for another deal," Mr Abbas said.

"We have a hunch that they were about to deliver it to some buyers on their way," he said.

Meanwhile leading archaeologist Qasim Ali Qasim told Geo TV that the relics were mostly Gandharan art, found in an area near Peshawar.

He said that most of the items depict the early life of Buddha, which added to their value.

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