Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pakistan struggles with smuggled Buddhist relics


Associated Press | Posted on Thu, Oct. 04, 2012 01:42 AM
B.K. Shakil Adil
In this photo taken on July 6, 2012, A Pakistani official looks at Buddha statues confiscated by custom authorities in Karachi, Pakistan. Lacking the necessary cash and manpower, Pakistan is struggling to stem the flow of millions of dollars in ancient Buddhist artifacts that shadowy criminal gangs dig up from the country’s northwest and smuggle to collectors around the world.
Lacking the necessary cash and manpower, Pakistan is struggling to stem the flow of millions of dollars in ancient Buddhist artifacts that looters dig up in the country's northwest and smuggle to collectors around the world.
The black market trade in smuggled antiquities is a global problem that some experts estimate is worth billions of dollars per year. The main targets are poor countries like Pakistan that possess a rich cultural heritage but don't have the resources to protect it.
The illicit excavations rob Pakistan of an important potential source of tourism revenue, as valuable icons are spirited out of the country, and destroy any chance for archaeologists to document the history of the sites.
"We are facing a serious problem because Pakistan is a vast country, and we have very meager resources," said Fazal Dad Kakar, head of the government's department of archaeology and museums. "We have no manpower to watch the hundreds of Buddhist sites and monasteries in the country, most of which are located in isolated valleys."
Many of the sites are in the Swat Valley, a verdant, mountainous area in the northwest that was once part of Gandhara, an important Buddhist kingdom that stretched across modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan more than 1,000 years ago.
Police seized a large container filled with nearly 400 artifacts in the southern port city of Karachi in July that were being trucked north to be smuggled out of the country. About 40 percent were found to be genuine, including nearly 100 Buddhist sculptures up to 1,800-years-old worth millions of dollars, said Qasim Ali Qasim, director of archaeology and museums in southern Sindh province.
There were effectively no restrictions on whisking Buddhist relics out of Pakistan's northwest in the first few decades after the country achieved independence from Britain in 1947, said Malik Naveed, a former police chief of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Swat Valley is located.
That changed in 1975 when the government passed a set of laws criminalizing the practice. But Kakar, the federal archaeology chief, said the laws are difficult to enforce given a lack of funds, and people who are caught rarely receive punishments severe enough to act as much of a deterrent.
Police arrested several people connected to the seizure in Karachi in July, but they have yet to be formally charged.
Two men who were arrested last October for excavating a statue of Buddha from a site in Swat were only fined about $50 each, far less than the maximum punishment of a year in prison and a fine of more than $800 they could have received, said Syed Naeen, a public prosecutor in the area.
A Manhattan art dealer, Subhash Kapoor, is under arrest in neighboring India for allegedly smuggling millions of dollars in antiquities out of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan that he sold to museums and private collectors from his gallery in New York and online, according to police investigators involved with the case.
Rather than dig up Buddhist relics, some Pakistanis have focused on making replicas, such as the ones seized in Karachi, that they often try to pass off as the real thing - although this practice is also illegal in the country. Many operate covertly around the ancient Buddhist site of Taxila, a short drive from the capital, Islamabad.
"I learned the practice from my fellow villagers in my childhood and can fake anything using cement, small stones, some colors and chemicals," said Salahud Deen, who works out of his home in a village near Taxila.
The 30-year-old high school dropout was contacted by The Associated Press through the owner of a tea shop in the area and showed off a sample of his wares, including a small statue of the Buddha's head. He said he recently received an order from a man in Sri Lanka to make a 3-foot tall "fasting Buddha" statue and expected to make a little more than $200 in the process.
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.

Hundreds in Sri Lanka protest Buddhist attacks in Bangladesh   2012-10-04 20:59:34

COLOMBO, Oct. 4 (Xinhua) -- Over 1,000 people including Buddhist priests from Myanmar, Thailand and Bangladesh staged a protest march here Thursday, urging the Bangladesh government to stop oppression of Buddhist people in that country, an activist said here.
Protesters marched to the Bangladesh High Commission and handed over a petition calling for the government to protect Buddhists in the Chittagong and Chittagong Hill regions who they alleged were under attack by Muslim extremist groups.
The protest was organized by a popular Buddhist organization in Sri Lanka called the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS).
Protesters flung plastic water bottles at the embassy building when they saw an embassy official filming the demonstration. However no one was injured in the incident.
"During the last few days 19 Buddhist temples some of which are 300-500 years old and about 100 Buddha statues have been burnt down. Many top monks have been attacked and rumor has it even killed. In fear of being killed Buddhists are deserting temples," BBS Secretary General Venerable Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera told reporters.
He insisted that around 250 Buddhist households and shops have been vandalized in these areas and people were fleeing in fear of the extremist groups.
The priest called on the Bangladeshi government to take immediate action to protect and provide compensation for the Buddhists that have been affected by the attacks.
Government spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the government's attention has been drawn to these incidents and that they were "gravely concerned."
"We will have discussions with the relevant parties to find a solution to this crisis," he assured but declined to comment what steps the government planned to take.
Meanwhile a prominent organization of local Muslim leaders called the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama released a statement condemning the violence in Bangladesh and calling for co-existence of different religions.
Editor: Bi Mingxin

Tamils in Sri Lanka to elect first ever Provincial Council next year

Colombo, October 5, 2012
The war-affected ethnic Tamils would be able to elect their first Provincial Council of the northern region by September next year when the Sri Lankan government holds the first ever local polls.
The government’s plan to hold the first elections at the provincial level post-war is seen as a first step towards achieving a political solution to the ethnic Tamil question.
Though people in the northern province voted both in 2009 Presidential and the general elections next year, the Northern Provincial Council has not yet been constituted even three years after the end of the decades-old war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Sri Lanka’s powerful Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who is also the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, attributed the delay in holding elections to the continuing process of resettlement of displaced people in the northern region, the worst—affected in the war.
“We are in the process of preparing the electoral rolls of people in the northern region. The process is expected to be completed by June, 2013. After that we plan to hold elections by September next year,” he told visiting Indian journalists here. People in the northern region have been looking forward to the elections to the Northern Provincial Council and even India has been pushing Sri Lanka to conduct elections.PTI

“Political wave in favour of AIADMK”

THENI, October 5, 2012 | The Hindu
The present political scenario is favourable to the AIADMK and chances of the party winning all seats in the State in the forthcoming Parliament elections are very bright, said Finance Minister O. Pannerselvam.
Preparing the party workers for the Parliament elections at a meeting held here on Thursday, he said that the AIADMK had fulfilled all its election promises and had brought more schemes for the uplift of the poor and the downtrodden thus gaining the confidence of the people.
The Congress has lost its base in many States and was solely dependent on State-level parties for political stability, he said and added that Ms. Jayalalithaa has become a guiding force in national politics.
Strongly criticizing the DMK party president M. Karunanidhi for his double standard in State and national issues, Mr. Paneerselvam stated that Mr. Karunanidhi had ditched the Tamil people in the State as well as the Tamils living in Sri Lanka.
From Cauvery dispute to Mullai Periyar issue, the DMK chief did not press the Centre to do justice to the Tamil people.
His stand on Sri Lankan issue was well known to every one in the country and voters will no longer believe Karunanidhi’s political gimmicks, he pointed out.
In his special address, Minister for Local Administration M. K. Munusamy narrated the cordial relationship between the AIADMK and the people of Theni.
He said that the people in the district have been bolstering the AIADMK since its formation.
While addressing the gathering, Minister for Power R. Viswanathan criticised the lack of planning and inaction of the previous government and said it was the prime reason for the acute power crisis. Now, many power projects were being executed in the State and the power supply will be streamlined by December end.
In 2014, these units will produce more than the demand, thus making the State a power surplus one, he added. In his address, Minister for Housing, R. Vaithilingam appealed to the cadres to work for the success of the party in the forthcoming Parliament polls.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lanka backs statehood for Palestine at UN session

Qadijah Irshad / 3 October 2012

COLOMBO — The Sri Lankan government called on the international community to usher in a new Palestine before it is too late at the 67th Session of UN General Assembly that ended on Monday.
In the government’s address to the UN community, Sri Lanka urged world leaders to reinstate Palestinian statehood and help end the struggle of the Palestinian people.
“It is time for action rather than more desultory discussion,” said Dr Palitha Kohona Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN, referring to the Palestinian occupation during the seven day conference. “The international community now has a window of opportunity to usher in an independent and viable Palestinian State before it is too late.” 
Dr Kohona stated that the Sri Lankan government and people remained “steadfast in supporting the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and a two-State solution.”