ISLAMABAD - The government on Thursday acknowledged that a large number of antiques had been smuggled to United States, United Kingdom, Italy and France.

Federal Minister for Information and National Heritage Pervaiz Rashid in a written reply to National Assembly informed that cases had successfully been taken up with the United States, England and Italy for return of the smuggled artifacts of Pakistan under provisions of the Antiquities Act 1975 and the Unesco Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. He said as many as 39 artifacts of Pakistan origin had been repatriated from USA in 2007 while two cases in the United States were pending for want of a bilateral agreement for repatriation of the cultural heritage artifacts.

The minister added that agreement had been approved by the cabinet, however due to some observations of the permanent representative of Pakistan in Unesco, the text of the agreement has been amended and sent to the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights for vetting.

The minister, answering a question put by MNA Sajida Begum of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), said the United Kingdom’s customs authorities had seized 198 artifacts smuggled from Pakistan.

The case was taken up with the UK customs authorities through Pakistani embassy and finally the artifacts were handed over to Pakistani embassy in London by the UK customs authorities in 2007. The antiquities are still in custody of the embassy. In a similar case, 96 Pakistan-origin antiquities smuggled to Italy were seized by the Italian police and after successful efforts the Italian government handed over the same to Pakistani embassy in Rome.

Case for return of 45 antiquities has been taken up in the local court of Paris under Unesco Convention through the Pakistani embassy.

The minister said that Federal Department of Archaeology and Museums had taken steps to control smuggling of the cultural artifacts.

He said Enforcement of the Antiquities Act 1975 had been framed and notified by the government from time to time relating to the management, protection, preservation and maintenance of moveable and immoveable antiquities.

The department protected 403 archaeological sites and historical monuments of national importance under Antiquities Act 1975, throughout the country. Antiquities Trade Control Branch was established with its offices at Karachi, Quetta, Gilgit, Peshawar, Taxila, Multan and Lahore to control smuggling of antiquities and illegal excavations on archaeological sites.

The minister said the department had taken all possible measures for preservation, safety and upkeep of the sites and monuments under its control and deputed watch and ward staff on important archaeological sites.

Besides, the government had undertaken extensive archaeological surveys and research in the country for documentation of the archaeological sites. Professionals had been trained to help control and identify the sites that are vulnerable to smugglers. “The government has successfully collaborated and cooperated with international and national agencies for preventing the smuggling of the cultural heritage of the nation. We established four conservation laboratories for preservation and conservation of the cultural heritage artifacts,” he added.