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27 artefacts shifted to museum


A man arranges seized ancient statues in a police station in Karachi.—AFP Photo

KARACHI: Some 27 of the 395 artefacts seized by the police in a raid last month — with most of them said to be belonging to Gandhara civilisation — were shifted from the Awami Colony police station to the National Museum on Saturday afternoon.

Responding to Dawn queries, Sindh culture department’s archeology director Qasim Ali Qasim said a six-member departmental team, led by museum chief Mohammad Shah Bokhari, had gone to the police station early in the morning to begin the shifting of the artefacts.

According to Mr Qasim, they were properly packed to protect them from damage while being transported in a pickup along with a police squad, led by Investigation Officer Ghulam Shabbir Khahwar who handed over the artefacts to the museum.

He said the rest of the artefacts were at the police station and the department would later send its team to transport them to the museum. Only one of the artefacts, which had been shifted, was shown to media persons while the others were wrapped in protective packaging.

He said that after the artefacts were brought to the museum, they would be shifted to a big hall on the first floor of the museum next to the Gandhara gallery. Later, they would be put on display at the museum. He said one of the artefacts that had been shifted was an Eka-Mukha Linga, while another one was the headstone of a grave. The others were smaller. He said bigger artefacts would need lifters and cranes for their loading and unloading.

Answering a question regarding the claims of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab governments regarding the ownership of the artefacts, he said that some KP officials had visited the police station and prepared an inventory of the objects. They also apparently demanded that, since the artefacts belonged to their province, they be handed over to them. But the police told them that the artefacts were case property and the police could not give them to anybody until a court of law ordered as such.

So the officials returned to KP, Mr Qasim said.

Answering a question regarding media reports that some of the artefacts had been stolen while they were at the police station, he said it could not be confirmed at present. But, he said, the department had a complete inventory of the seized artefacts at the police station and now the artefacts being shifted were being marked in the department’s list. So when the shifting was completed, it would emerge how many artefacts, if any, had gone missing. If some were found to be missing, legal action would be taken as the artefacts’ protection was the police’s responsibility while they were at the police station.

In reply to a question regarding the genuineness or otherwise of the artefacts, he said that after the shifting was completed, they would be examined by the department’s experts to check if they were real or fake. And if any doubt arose, the sand etc on the artefacts could be checked and examined scientifically in the department’s laboratory at the museum.

He said the department had approached the court and asked that the artefacts be handed over to the museum for safekeeping and the court allowed the plea and also allowed that they be kept and displayed at the museum till the disposal of the case.

Answering another question, he said that digging and sale and purchase of such artefacts was banned under the Antiquities Act 1975, which prescribed long prison terms and heavy fines for offenders.

He said that trade even in counterfeit artefacts, prepared according to the size of the originals and from the same material, was banned under the law. However, the department allowed a few artefacts’ replicas to be prepared and sold so that people could keep them as souvenirs. But it was ensured that the replicas were not prepared from the same material or were not of the actual size of the original artefacts.

Acting on a tip-off, the police carried out checking and caught a 40-foot-long trailer-mounted container travelling from Karachi to Sialkot and the artefacts were seized. The police mishandled and damaged some of them while unloading them from the container by throwing them to the ground from the trailer. Even later despite a hue and cry in the media, police remained careless. And media reports suggested that some of the artefacts had been stolen. The police have presented the people involved in transporting the artefacts in court.