ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is yet to bring back a stolen Buddha artefact dating back to the 2nd century which was spotted and seized from a private gallery by the US authorities. Though the American authorities officially handed the artefact over to the Pakistani mission in New York in April last year, the Pakistani authorities are yet to take possession of it and the US authorities had to remind them they cannot keep the artefact in their custody indefinitely.

“Money maybe music to the ears of our ruling class but they turn deaf to the din of inordinate delays in matters of national interest,” an officer of the Department of Archaeology and Museum (DOAM) said.

According to him, the department was unaware of any event in which the US authorities had handed over the artefact from the Kushan period to the Pakistani government.

“The department learnt just last month that the US authorities were waiting for the Pakistani government to make arrangements and transport the artefact to the country of its origin,” he said,

According to the district attorney’s office in New York, a Japanese national Tatsuzo Kaku started smuggling stolen antiques out of South Asian countries including the Buddhapada from Swat. The relic weighs roughly 500 pounds and is worth an estimated $1.1 million. It depicts the footprint of Buddha, a symbol appearing in Buddha art.

The district attorney’s office said the 71-year-old Kaku admitted in his guilty plea that he arranged to have the rare sculpture shipped to a private gallery in New York between February and March last year.

The district attorney’s office seized the artefact and charged Kaku with possession of stolen property. The district attorney’s office handed over the sculpture to the Pakistan mission in New York in April 2016 in a repatriation ceremony.

However, roughly two months ago, the district attorney’s office reminded the Pakistani mission in Washington saying the “New York Attorney’s office has been holding the Pakistan artefact Buddhapada, depicting footprints of Buddha in its custody since April 2016 and it is not authorised to hold it any further. The artefact may be transported to Pakistan immediately”.

In May the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveyed to the Department of Archaeology that keeping in view the value and cultural importance of the artefact and given that the US authorities cannot hold it further, the transportation of the relic should be arranged for immediately.

The ministry maintained that the concerned department had been informed to take necessary measures. DOAM Director General Junaid Akhlaq said the Pakistan mission has been asked to take physical possession of the artefact.

“The sculpture is a pride of Pakistan and will be brought back at its earliest,” Mr Akhlaq said.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2017

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