For the first time in their bi-lateral relations, France returned cultural property to Pakistan on 2 July 2019. Seized by French customs in 2006 and 2007, an archaeological treasure comprising 445 statuettes, busts, vases, jars, urns, bowls, cups, plates and cups, most of them from the Nal (3100-2700 BC) and Kulli (2600 and 1900 BC) cultures of Balochistan, were returned to their country of origin.
The return was made possible after a series of interceptions and thorough research. Initially 110 objects were intercepted by customs officials at Paris-Roissy International Airport in 2006 in two postal parcels from Pakistan destined for a Parisian gallery. An expert opinion from a CNRS archaeologist confirmed customs’ doubts about the parcels which contained artifacts from the second and third millennium B.C. looted from cemeteries in Southern Balochistan in Pakistan. In 2007 judicial customs officers searched in the same gallery and seized another 335 ceramic pottery pieces imported under the same conditions. An expert confirmed the authenticity of the objects from the fourth and third millennium BC from the Indus Valley civilization.
When informed about these seizures, the Embassy of Pakistan in Paris confirmed that the ancient objects had not been licensed for export and were therefore illegally excavated and smuggled in violation of Pakistani law.
At the restitution ceremony on 2 July 2019, His Excellency Moin ul Haque, Ambassador of Pakistan to France, highlighted this example of successful international cooperation and stated that these restitutions are “a new chapter in our bilateral cooperation. I would like to thank the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture, and the French Customs for making this restitution possible. I am confident that France and Pakistan will continue to cooperate in this important area in the future”. Jean-Yves Le Drian, then French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, stated that: “France is determined to fight against the illicit trafficking of cultural property and is involved at the multilateral level to mobilize the international community around the protection of cultural heritage. I salute the quality of our cooperation with Pakistan on this issue, which enables the return of these cultural properties to their country of origin”.
The ratification of the 1970 Convention has an added value for requests of returns and restitutions as one of its guiding principles is the strengthening of international cooperation among States Parties – such as this example of the bilateral relations between France and Pakistan.