Pakistani police have seized a large number of 2,000-year-old Buddhist artifacts and relics dating from the Gandhara era and arrested two men who were allegedly trying to smuggle the items out of the country.
The artifacts were recovered in two major police raids in the southern port city of Karachi in the last 24 hours.
Police first seized artifacts and relics on a tip off when they stopped a container in Awami colony in Korangi on Friday while on Saturday they raided a warehouse in a residential area of Korangi and recovered more artifacts and relics.
"The seized items contain statues of Gautam Buddha, life sized idols, plaques and utensils," a senor police official said.
The haul included 10 statues of the Lord Buddha.
Some heavier artifacts were damaged due to handling and careless unloading of items at a police station.
The government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which was home to the Gandhara civilisation, has demanded that the items should be handed over to it by police in Karachi.
The Gandhara civilisation evolved in the Peshawar Valley and parts of eastern Afghanistan over 2,000 years ago.
Qasim Ali Qasim, an official of the Sindh culture department, said that the artifacts enjoy protection under the Antiquities Act of 1975. The law restricts digging of and trade in protected objects, prescribing long prison terms and heavy fines.
Ali said the goods were being transported to Sialkot when the police intercepted the container.
He said the raid on the godown was conducted on information provided by the arrested driver and the cleaner of the container.
According to police, the two identified the owner of the contraband consignment as Arif Butt.
National Museum chief Mohammad Shah Bokhari said an inventory had been made of 38 artefacts and some more items were yet to be examined.
Qasim said the artifacts included a statue of a "Boddhisattva" or Buddha before achieving nirvana and a "Jataka" or a stone panel depicting the scene at the time of Buddha's birth.
Among others was a "Hariti" (a witch who, as the legend goes, used to kill children, but after meeting Gautama Buddha repented and was transformed into a protector of children)
"Probably the smugglers intended to smuggle these out of the country through Karachi port or airport, but after failing to do so, they decided to send the consignment to Sialkot dry port for eventual shipment overseas," Qasim said.
A good number of the sculptures were three to four metres long and very heavy.
Police had to arrange for lifters to start moving the artifacts and relics from the godown in Korangi and bring them to the police station.
This is not the first time that a large haul of artifacts has been seized.
A few years ago, over 1,500 items, including more than 400 Gandhara sculptures and pre-historic and Islamic era relics, were seized by authorities at Karachi port.