PESHAWAR: Officials of the Excise, Taxation and Narcotics Control (ETN) Department have foiled an attempt to smuggle from Peshawar to Islamabad more than a dozen Arabic and Persian language books and manuscripts, which are said to be over 100 years old.
“We have recovered 17 items wrapped in a piece of cloth from the back of a brand new Fielder vehicle,” said inspector mobile squad Gohar Ali Shah here on Friday as his senior Aftab Khan showed the old books and manuscripts that were recovered and handed over to the Archaeology and Museum Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa once their age and importance was ascertained by the expert team.
Officials said that two persons hailing from Nowshera district were also arrested and a case would be registered against them by the directorate of archaeology and museum.
Artefacts, manuscripts, books and buildings, which are more than 75 years old, are considered ‘antiquity’ under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Antiquities Act 1997.
Seized items include ancient Arabian and Persian books and manuscripts
Their movement without permission of the government is illegal since antiquities are not private property, but government property, said director archaeology and museums Dr Abdul Samad whose staff was contacted by the excise officials to verify if the recovered manuscripts and books were antiquities or not.
“Yes, these are over 100 years old manuscripts and books written in Arabic and Persian,” said Dr Samad.
Aftab Khan, an official of ETN department, said that their director general Nasir Khan had shared information that there could be an attempt to smuggle the old manuscripts and books to Islamabad.
The officials cordoned off the Motorway Toll Plaza at Peshawar and during checking recovered 17 items hidden from the back of the vehicle. It included 15 old books and two wooden framed manuscripts.
The two persons were arrested after the archaeology department officials confirmed that these were ‘old’ and rare collection of manuscripts and books.
“I appreciate the professional manner with which for the first time ETN department officials handled the entire matter. Earlier, items recovered were taken to the police stations where often the evidence was tampered or destroyed and the case weakened against the smugglers,” said Dr Samad.
About six years ago, a consignment of such antiquity was recovered, but later it could not be proved in the court that the items were antiquity and the arrested persons were released.
“We will make sure this time we file a strong case as the trend to smuggle antiquities need to be discouraged,” said Dr Samad, adding that antiquities belonged to museums for their preservation.
He said that the recovered items would remain in the museum instead of a police station till the case is decided.
Under the relevant law, smuggling of antiquities is illegal and the guilty punishable to three years prison term. Dr Samad said that a new law was proposed to enhance the punishment for such offences to five years imprisonment and Rs1 million fine.
He hoped that the proposed law would be passed soon.
Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2016