Smuggling of artifacts
Smuggling of artifacts represents the darker side of globalization as it is inducing extra-legal activity by inciting and abetting corruption within law enforcement agencies. It is also a cause of strain between nations because it has the potential to dampen the gains from legitimate international trade. Since it is difficult to put a precise figure on the full extent of smuggling of artifacts, however, a small component of this illicit trade is smuggling of antiquities is estimated from $300 million and up to $6 billion per year. According to a report the smuggling of antiquities is ranked behind only drugs and arms in its scale of illegal trafficking. It is pertinent to mention that only a small portion of systematic knowledge of the dynamics of this illicit trade is available as the data on illegal activities is by its very nature always difficult to obtain.
The scenario has exposed some valid questions that who is allowing this trade and why? What are the obstacles to control this enormous volume of illicit trafficking of artifacts? Not surprisingly, when and where smugglers are apprehended and their operation are exposed, their activities are often found to be facilitated through the bribing of customs officials to look the other way. This attitude of the law enforcers has made the illegal and unreported export of artefacts relatively easy in countries with corrupt bureaucracies that allow such type of transactions. Furthermore, the under-developed countries have never invested much or unable to provide resources to their staff necessary to counter the situation, they are allocating a small budget to improve the performance of their field staff. The introduction of advance knowledge through training programs, collaboration with other agencies involved in the prevention of the smuggling of artifacts is being ignored to combat the illicit trade.
Resultantly, the smuggling and illicit trade of artifacts stolen from museums or looted from archaeological sites remained a growing international problem, and it has considerable roots in Pakistan since decades. Because, Pakistan being the cradle of some oldest civilizations like Indus Valley Civilization, Gandhara Civilization and having a huge volume of Mughal Heritage has enormous attraction for the people indulged in this illicit trade of smuggling. Again, Afghanistan is another place with rich resources of antiquities or cultural objects, and we are sharing a long porous border, a cross border transaction of such objects always remained a problem for our law enforcement agencies. Especially, within the countries in conflict and countries affected by natural disasters have become particularly vulnerable at the hands of artefacts traffickers and the law enforcement agencies remained unable to handle the problem. Art and cultural artifacts are being regularly disappeared from museums, private collections and archaeological sites across the world and in majority of cases the concerned departments remained clueless. While some thefts were solved quickly and the artifacts recovered, but thousands of objects are still missing or disappeared since decades.
This cultural theft or illicit trafficking of artifacts must be stopped as our cultural heritage encompasses important values to be passed on to future generations and it needs to be protected and remain in safe hands. Since, illegal archaeological excavations and the removal of artifacts and cultural objects destroy the scientific basis for studying cultural heritage and national identity. The impact of such criminal acts thus extends far beyond the immediate financial loss. Furthermore, the proceeds generated by the sale of smuggled objects are used to finance arms deals and the activities of extremist groups and may ultimately prolong human suffering. Illicit trade in cultural objects cannot be considered in isolation, as it is increasingly linked with other criminal activity. Cross-border crime of this type is a global problem that demands the investment of resources and implementation of preventive measures in origin, transit and destination countries.
The prevention of illicit trade in artifacts or cultural objects raises various challenges, including the fact that the market is global, and the increasing mobility of individuals has made it further impossible to tackle and control the problem. A further difficulty is that not all artifacts and cultural objects are registered or properly secured by those in charge of them. Although this is particularly the case in developing countries, where cultural heritage management is frequently poor, the international collaboration on the registration of stolen art and cultural property is badly needed to prevent the trafficking of such valuable cultural objects to preserve heritage. Furthermore, the sale of the stolen artifacts must be made difficult with the help of the UNESCO and such other international organizations. The looting of historical and cultural monuments and smuggling of stolen art and artifacts can only be combated by successfully improving the capacity of authorities involved in the protection of such objects and by reducing the unlawful importation and exportation and illicit sales of such objects across the world. The prevention, discovery and combating of illicit trading and smuggling is often complicated by a lack of expertise on the part of the police and customs and excise staff, as well as among commercial stakeholders and the general public. Greater knowledge is needed about the scale and specific characteristics of the illicit trade in artifacts and cultural objects, both in the country and internationally. This could be achieved by building effective measures to counter illicit trade of artifacts including a close cooperation and interaction between key stakeholders, for instance, cultural authorities, the police, the customs and excise authorities, museums, dealers and not least, the art and cultural experts.