Pakistan is a historical treasure trove, with artefacts going back several centuries buried underneath its soil, or scattered around its heritage sites. Yet what is troubling is that these priceless pieces of our history continue to be smuggled out of the country, with many finding their way to galleries and private collections abroad. As reported on Thursday, the Archaeological Survey of India has declared over 500 coins that were being brought into that country from Pakistan in two separate consignments as genuine artefacts. Indian media reports say the coins date back to different historical periods, including the Indo-Greek, the Sultanate and Mughal periods. It goes without saying that this treasure should be returned to Pakistan. Unfortunately, smuggling of cultural property out of Pakistan is not uncommon; there are frequent reports of customs authorities spoiling such bids. But for each smuggler caught, there are many more that succeed. In fact, the global trade in smuggled artefacts is worth millions of dollars and involves individuals across the world. The looter, smuggler and crooked customs official in Pakistan, for example, are only nodes in a far larger international network of illicit trade; the galleries and dealers who buy and sell stolen heritage items cannot be absolved of blame.

But the fact remains that Pakistan must do more within its borders to stop the pillage of artefacts. As per Unesco, KP is the worst affected province where the theft of artefacts is concerned. Observers also point out that there is a lack of reliable data concerning historical sites. But the KP government has made an attempt to address the problem; it has passed a refurbished provincial antiquities law which intends to improve oversight and increase punishments. We hope this law is implemented in its true spirit and serves as an example on how to crack down on the theft of cultural property. All provincial administrations must take stock of historical sites under their watch and improve efforts to prevent the looting of priceless artefacts.

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