Pakistan struggles with smuggled Buddhist relics

By Zarar Khan

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Locals who deal in real Buddhist artifacts they have stolen from sites in the northwest likely make much more money, but it's almost nothing compared to what people higher up the food chain earn. Looters receive on average less than 1 percent of the final sale price of an item, while middlemen and dealers get the other 99 percent, according to the former head of the U.N. Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Sandro Calvani.

Kakar, the federal archaeology chief, tried to stop Christie's auction house in New York from selling a "fasting Buddha" from the 3rd or 4th century last year as well as dozens of other Buddhist relics he claimed were smuggled out of Pakistan illegally.

Christie's went ahead and sold the Buddha for nearly $4.5 million and has asked Pakistan to provide proof of its claims, the auction house said.

Kakar was more successful with two shipments of Buddhist artifacts from Dubai and Tokyo that were seized by U.S. customs authorities in 2005, he said. He was able to prove the sculptures came from Pakistan by analyzing the age and composition of the stone, and the U.S. returned them, said Kakar.

Neil Brodie, an expert on the illicit trade in antiquities at the University of Glasgow, said it was critical for authorities to put pressure on private collectors and museums whose demand for ancient relics is fueling the black market. Some museums, particularly in Italy and Britain, have become more diligent about avoiding antiquities with questionable histories, but those in the U.S. have much more work to do, he said.

"You are losing the archaeological record on the ground by the destruction that is entailed by digging these relics out," said Brodie.

Associated Press writers Sherin Zada in Mingora, Pakistan, Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, and Ashok Sharma in Chennai, India, contributed to this report.

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