It requires high-level audacity to not only illegally acquire centuries-old precious artefacts for oneself, but to then smuggle them out of the country in attempts to profiteer. Customs officials at the Sialkot dry port were implicated in a foiled attempt to smuggle Gandharan artefacts to Japan via Islamabad. We recall that Punjab and Islamabad, specifically, have been hotbeds of the looting and plundering style of corruption recently. A tacit fact that is antiquated, however, is that customs officials have had a reputation of infamy where bribery and cheating are part and parcel of the day-to-day handling of goods smuggled into and out of the country. It must be seen through that the exporters, Japanese importers and the cargo company involved are made an example out of to deter any such crime in the future.
It is appalling that officials — especially those made responsible for maintaining the country’s welfare in some way — had the gall to profiteer from the precious artefacts that do not belong to them, but to the country and its rich heritage. It is shameful that the notion of respect is so ubiquitous and highly regarded in Pakistan, yet the buck stops when it comes to respecting not only people but also the land which houses centuries-old stories, precious relics, and a rich history. It is hard to demand any kind of respect for this country from outsiders when the guardians of the land cannot demonstrate respect themselves. Similarly, it has been difficult to afford minority groups on this land safe spaces to practise their faiths and traditions freely with frequent attempts to erase the land’s eclectic history of various peoples. This case of smuggling Buddhist artefacts has bolstered those devastating efforts. The actions by the alleged groups have caused deep embarrassment in the run-up to Pakistan’s 70th independence day celebrations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2017.