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Smugglers fly out but without treasures

Published Aug 26, 2013 01:01pm


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Rare gold coins bearing the image of Kushan kings Hovishka (left) and Vasudeva (right).
Rare gold coins bearing the image of Kushan kings Hovishka (left) and Vasudeva (right).

ISLAMABAD: Security personnel at the Islamabad airport busted a third attempt in almost as many months to smuggle out rare artifacts of the country on the Independence Day, Dawn has learned.

Customs sources said Bangkok-bound passengers Subhan Allah and Zahir Allah set off the metal detector alarm while passing through the screening machine. Their body check yielded the airport security staff two envelopes containing ancient gold coins.

Since the two ‘smugglers’ from Peshawar could not be detained legally, they were allowed to board their Flight TG 350 – but without their treasure.

Customs officials called in a senior official of the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) to assess the catch. After examining the 20 coins under his magnifying glass, the official declared they were more than 1,700 years old.

“On the first look, these coins seemed to belong to the Kushan period. Four of them looked extremely rare as they came from the earliest Kushan ‘King of Kings’ reign that flourished in northern Pakistan in the fifth century AD,” the DOAM official was quoted as saying.

Director General DOAM, Dr Fazaldad Kakar, confirmed to Dawn the assessment and that his department had found gold coins before in the Taxila region straddling over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Punjab provinces. The last such discovery was made in 2005, during excavations at Badalpur Buddhist site in Taxila.

Dr Kakar said 16 coins in the lot seized at the Islamabad airport on August 14 were similar to those found by DOAM and on display in museums for visitors to admire. The other four were of special interest to him and his team.

“These you don’t find very often. The four coins are of very good quality gold,” said the director general The coins were in such good condition that, to his delight, he could immediately figure out the images of the deities and kings on them.

They were images of Lord Shiva, Kushan kings with Brahmic scriptures, possibly dating 4th or 5th century AD.

One bore the half-length figure of Kushan emperor Hovishka, holding a scepter in his right hand, and what appeared flames over his left shoulder. Inscribed on the edges of the coin were the words ‘Shao Nano Shao’, which a senior archaeologist translated to mean ‘King of Kings’.

Similarly, rare was a coin with the impression of Vasudeva, the last of the Great Kushan Kings. “One side of the coin features a Hindu deity, possibly Lord Shiva, holding a trident in one hand and the figure of a bull in the background,” said the official.

A piece of puzzle in the catch at the airport is a 1.5-inch gold pendant. The artifact features a Grecian impression, possibly Alexander the Great.

“It’s too early to authenticate this particular piece. The side profile and the wavy hair are similar to what we have found before. This could be the impression of Alexander,” said Dr Fazaldad Kakar.

Senior Customs official at the Islamabad Airport, Ghulam Ali Malik, explained that whenever a catch is made of the August 14 kind, a case is registered under the Customs laws and the Antiquities Act after the verification of the confiscated artifacts.

“We know that smugglers often carry to Thailand antiquities, such as these coins, the export of which is banned. They conceal them in decoration pieces but the bolder ones try to carry the treasures on their persons. We are not permitted to allow the carrier board the aircraft with items which appear important historical riches,” he said.

After finishing with the legal procedures, the customs will hand over their latest catch of coins to the Department of Archaeology and Museums. Last year the Customs handed DOAM around 1,200 ancient artifacts confiscated over the previous few years.


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Comments (21) Closed

vigilant Aug 26, 2013 10:14am

Good job

vijay Aug 26, 2013 01:39pm

hope this treasure remains safe.

sampath Aug 26, 2013 03:55pm

Very good work. Keep it up. Why are the carriers of the items not able to be convicted?

These Coins are Haram Aug 26, 2013 03:57pm

because Vasudeva Krsna's name is found in it.

Amjad Wyne Aug 26, 2013 04:48pm

I am perplexed as to why they could not be held at the airport for questioning. If they were smuggling then they were criminals.

kemal Aug 26, 2013 05:18pm

Where are those coins now?

Akram Aug 26, 2013 06:22pm

these people were illegally caught smuggling goods, how can they not be detained? surely smuggling historic artefacts without permission is illegal! They should have been made to spill the beans where they were acquired from.

Indicus Aug 26, 2013 06:54pm

" Since the two

Arvind Aug 26, 2013 07:01pm

thats why i always says , we have common history

SAL Aug 26, 2013 07:07pm

Why did the TWO smugglers let go? There name sounded Pakistani, and, by law they should have been interrogated and put behind bars.

BRR Aug 26, 2013 07:28pm

You will be amazed at the hundreds of such coins available for sale / auction online. Most of these must have been stolen from musuems in Pakistan or smuggled out of Pakistan and Afghanistan and sold. People in Pakistan do not care, and even hate and are ashamed of, their ancient civilizations / cultures. They don't value it much, and perhaps it is good for the world that smugglers are able to get them out rather than have local pakistanis melt it to make some new islamic icon. That way old cultural artefacts are savd for the world rather than being destroyed by Pakistanis.

vazim Aug 26, 2013 07:29pm

Lovely, well done dear Customs.

Khan Aug 26, 2013 10:31pm

Govt should buy these artifacts from locals on good price and should punish those involve in selling out history. Wht not build a world class museum in Islamabad near international airport???

Saima Aug 27, 2013 04:01am

Well, I am afraid, these coins will be handed over to bigger smugglers sitting in the govt. from these minor smugglers. In any case these coins will not be displayed in any museum rather a private collection of a very corrupt politician. Sad demise.

Saeed Aug 27, 2013 07:29am

Good job.Since from peshawar cannot be detained don't get it. Or it is just sarcasm .

H L Aug 27, 2013 08:27am

@These Coins are Haram: There is something called as history and antique. Please wake up. Not everything in world is about being Islamic or non-Islamic. Its a crime and let it be handled as crime not a matter of Shariah.

anand Aug 27, 2013 03:35pm

@Khan: your history if you go back all you see is Hinduism, so people or government will not be interested in that, first build tolerence and sense in the society other things will come automatically.

john Aug 27, 2013 03:38pm

@These Coins are Haram:

This hatred are taking you slowly in the destruction of the country.

Alex Aug 27, 2013 06:30pm

@These Coins are Haram: So is the computer you just used. It bears the name of the maker who was not a Muslim.

Ajukis Rambler Aug 27, 2013 08:11pm

@Indicus: Really it seems very strange that at one time stolen things being smuggled have been recovered from culprits which have been confiscated from them caught red handed, and at the same time you are saying you cannot detain them legally and not arresting allowing them to go. It is paradoxical that the law allowed to confiscate treasure but not allowing arrest and detention. One wonders either complicity of officials in the affair or because they were from Peshawar, hence law allowed them to make theft, smuggle and do whatever they liked!

Kamal Aug 28, 2013 12:43am

Shear negligence by Custom as to why and how these two smugglers got cleared and boarded to plane. In earlier news it was confirmed by custom team that these were smugglers but how they managed to flee the country? Immediately Interpol's help is needed to brought back them to Pakistan for more investigation and recoveries and exemplary punishment for deference. It appears that they are routine carrier of all artifacts with the close connivance of Custom. Ministry concerned should initiate inquiries into this matter