Jamrud: The discovery of 30,000-years-old archeological sites in Khyber Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) would bring tourists and help improve the economic condition of the war-torn region, say authorities in the tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

However, they say, the sites would need proper preservation and protection measures given the volatile nature of the region that has seen long conflict in recent years.

Documents obtained by News Lens Pakistan said the pre-historic archeological sites dated back to the pre-historic, Buddhist, Islamic and British eras. The sites were discovered in a pilot survey conducted by the Political Administration – the governing body at tribal agencies – of Khyber Agency with the technical support of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) directorate of Archeology.

“The rocks found in Lawara Mayana village of Khyber Agency have archeological ruins some 30,000 years old,” said Dr. Abdul Samad, who heads the KP Directorate of Archeology and Museums. Dr. Samad led the team of surveyors who discovered the sites.

A total of 110 sites were discovered in the Agency of which three are as old as 30,000 years, said Dr. Samad. He said prior to the discovery, the region was known for many other archeological sites including rock painting, bridges, tunnels and stupas going back to the Buddhist era.

Ancient caves: Photo by News lens Pakistan
2500 year old rock painting: Photo by News lens Pakistan
British era Hujra: Photo by News lens Pakistan

However, the political administration of Khyber Agency is worried about threats to the sites in absence of a proper security mechanism to protect and preserve the sites.

Speaking to News Lens, Political Agent, Khyber Agency, Khalid Mehmood said that the new and old archeological sites like tunnels, caves, and prisons of ancient monarchs had the potential to turn the economic fortune of the region in the aftermath of a long debilitating conflict but only if they were properly preserved.

He bemoaned the fact that there was no archeological expert in the entire agency nor were there adequate security measures to protect such sites. “The five stupas dating back to the Gandhara Civilization and the 100 years old railway tracks and tunnels are in a sad state owing to lack of proper looking after mechanism.”

The KP government and the federal government have the KP Antiquities Act-2016 and Federal Antiquates Act-1975 to preserve and protect heritage sites but article-147 of the Constitution of Pakistan exclude FATA from the governance system of the rest of Pakistan. The region is governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The antiquities preservation act of both federal and provincial government isn’t extended to the tribal region. Experts consider this one of the main reasons why the region lacked proper protection and preservation mechanisms for archeological sites.

Dr. Nidaullah Sehrai, a renowned archeologist, said the two sets of parallel laws governing regions across Pakistan has created situations where huge swathes of land like FATA was excluded from the Constitution of Pakistan.

“There should be same laws and one governing system across the country and all laws including the antiquities protection acts should be extended to FATA to preserve heritage sites in the tribal region,” said Sehrai, former director of the KP archeology and Museums Department.

When asked about the security and protection of archeological sites, he said there is a need for creating awareness among the locals about the importance of historical heritage through syllabi taught in schools. “Children text books need to have chapters highlighting the importance or our archeological heritage.”

Cultural tourism is linked to peace in the region, Sehrai argued; adding where there was peace there would be more tourists visiting the region.

To attract tourists to visit the heritage sites, he suggested proper facilities including accommodation services; meals, adequate security and transportation should be provided at the sites.

Mehmood, the Political Agent of Khyber Agency, said the administration was working in consultation with the government to extend the antiquities protection laws to the tribal region. “This would ensure preservation of our rich heritage sites,” he said.

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared six archeological sites including the ruins of Indus Valley Civilization at Mohenjo-Daro, the Buddhist remains at Taxila, the Buddhist ruins at Takht -i-Bahi and the Neighboring City Remains at Sahr -i-Bahlol of KP, historic monuments at Thatta, the Badshahi Fort and Shalimar Gardens in Lahore and the Rohtas Fort near Jhelum as World Heritage sites. 18 more archeological sites are on the tentative list of properties yet to be declared as World Heritage by UNESCO.

Dr. Rafiullah Khan, who teaches at the Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations in the Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad, writes in a research article that archeological sites in any region helps improve the economic condition of the locals living there. In the paper entitled ‘The Reclamation of Gandhara Cultural Heritage’ published in the journal of Conservation Science in Cultural Heritage, Dr. Khan notes that archeological sites are a source of income generation at local, national and international level.

“Besides being a source of income generation with tourists coming from other parts of the world, such sites can contribute to positive image of Pakistan,” write Dr. Khan. “[They] also can be used for cultural projection [of Pakistan] across the globe through tourists from western countries.”

Khan suggests that it international aid agencies should provide desired infrastructure to preserve heritage sites in the world including Pakistan.

Khan terms the common perception among the locals that archeological sites are hiding places of treasures as unfortunate, “leading to clandestine activities surrounding [the sites that] damage its worth.”

The perception about archeological sites as treasure troves can be easily rectified, he suggests, through creating awareness, preserving and protecting such sites.

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