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Haven for smugglers.

There is a spurt in the smuggling of antiquities in 20 districts of the western provinces.

Local authorities confirm the increase, and blame it on the Taleban and "irresponsible armed individuals" who are reported to be raking in millions from "Arab" countries.

Arya Rawoofian, head of culture and information of Herat province, says smugglers are using metal detectors that are imported from neighbouring countries. It can track up to 5 metres under the ground.

According to Rawoofian, there are illegal digs in districts like Shindand, Pashtoon Zargoon, Chesht, Ghorian and Zendajan.

The National Directorate of Security and Herat Police seized three illegally-imported metal detectors. But police chief Abdul Rawoof Ahmadi denies these were brought in clandestinely.

Local authorities in provinces like Herat, Ghor and Badghis have raised a red flag on the issue of smuggling of relics and antiquities. They fear it is an irretrievable loss for the country if it continues unchecked.

Special forces

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior Affairs has offered to dispatch troops (from 012, a special force created for the purpose) to safeguard historical sites. Najibullah Danesh, deputy spokesperson in the ministry says, "If the Ministry of Culture and Information sees it as necessary we are ready to send soldiers to guard historical places even in the most remote areas."

He bemoaned the lack of interest among locals to protect places from smugglers of historical relics

But Danesh has been challenged by Haroon Hakimi, spokesperson in the culture and information ministry who claims the Ministry of Interior Affairs was informed that the special force 012 is missing from the western provinces but it did nothing.

The special force was created in 2003 by the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Its main task is to safeguard historical relics and places.

Locals join in

The province has been plundered by smugglers. Ahmad Ehsan Ahmadyar, head of the provincial culture and information department says, "Some people dig illegally in districts like Qadis, Jowand, Balamurghab and Abkamari". He claims the digging is by locals who then sell to smugglers. The latter take the relics and antiquities across the border to Iran or Pakistan. He insists smuggling has increased this year.

Local authorities in Ghor province told Killid the smuggling of antiquities was rampant in eight districts including Ferozkoh. According to Fakhrudin Aryapoor, head of the culture and information department in Ghor, most of the illegal digging is in areas that are under the control of the Taleban. The sites yield decorative beads, earthenware pottery like jugs, statues and metal ware. The local government has launched sensitisation programmes but it has not yet produced results.

Abdul Hai Khatibi, spokesperson for the Ghor governor says, "Most diggings and smuggling of historical relics is from districts such as Tolak, Tewara, Dawlatyar, Saghar and areas close to the city of Ferozkoh as well as the capital of Ghor. The relics are taken to Herat and Kandahar and sold. There are reports that smugglers buy land -- allegedly for the purpose of farming or building -- only to conduct illegal digs."

Khatibi accuses the Taleban of being involved in smuggling and profiting from Afghanistan's rich past. The province of Farah has 22 historical sites. Illegal excavation is going on in one district, Joyand. Fareed Ahmad Ayubi, the provincial head of culture and information, says local people in Joyand are involved. Farah was stripped of most historical relics during the Taleban years.

Tighter policing

Border police officials in the western zone claim they have special arrangements in place to prevent the smuggling of historical relics. General Mohammad Juma Adeel, chief commander of border zone number 705, says personnel are deployed in the provinces of Herat, Farah, Badghis, also in its airports. More than 10 people were arrested for the smuggling of historical relics. Authorities in the Herat Attorney General (AG) Office say four dossiers linked to smuggling of historical relics in 2015 and one from this year were forwarded to court after review.

Gul Ahmad Ramesh, head of AG Office in Herat City, says these cases are related to the smuggling of precious stones to Iran, use of metal detectors and looting historical sites.

Smuggling of historical relics is punishable under article 74 with a prison term of between one month and 10 years, depending on the severity of the crime.

Dr Mahdi Hadeed, in charge of the Herat security committee claims there are reports that some of the companies that enter the province for the purpose of restoration of historical places are involved in smuggling historical relics. He claims that recently an Uzbek company that was restoring the 15th century tomb of Goharshad Begum took away the original stones of the monument.

The culture and information department claims there are more than 400 historical sites in Herat, but most have been destroyed over the last few years. According to Dr Hadeed, one of the reasons why Herat failed to make it to UNESCO's world heritage list was the wanton destruction on these sites.

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Publication:Killid Weekly
Date:Oct 16, 2016
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