ISLAMABAD: Mohammad Naeem lives in the federal capital and passes Margalla Avenue several times a day during his daily commute.
Over the last few months he has noticed a lot of movement in the area where a new General Headquarters (GHQ) building was to be constructed.
“Half of the vehicles that pass through here are motorbikes or small cars and the other half are heavy vehicles carrying construction material. I’ve always assumed that most of these people who come and go from here are labourers at some construction site,” Mr Naeem told Dawn.
Activity at proposed site of military headquarters raises many questions, yields no answers
“My first guess was that construction work on GHQ had begun, because there is nothing else in that area,” he said.
Others Dawn spoke to also said that heavy vehicles were usually parked near the entrance to the access road, even late at night, and there was considerable movement on the small road leading to the proposed GHQ site.
During a visit to the spot in question, which is located opposite the ill-fated Margalla Towers in F-10, it was observed that this is where a small access road, which leads towards the proposed site of GHQ, meets Margalla Avenue. While the road used to be no more than a dirt track until a few months ago, it has now been properly paved.
An army official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told Dawn that no one was allowed to enter the area without permission. However, he confirmed that construction work was indeed being carried out in the area, but was sure that it had nothing to do with the construction of a new GHQ building.
“If it was GHQ being built, all vegetation would have been removed and the uneven terrain would have been flattened. Although we are not part of the decision-making process, we’ve been hearing that they are building ‘Soldier Lines’ or barracks to house servicemen,” he said.
This lack of information about what is actually going on has frustrated several locals, including Mr Naeem. But a visit to the nearby offices of the Defense Export Promotion Organization (DEPO) in Sector E-10 yielded little more.
Officials at the reception, after a thorough questioning, recommended a meeting with Colonel Fakhar in the Defence Complex Islamabad (DCI). But Col Fakhar was also not available and queries were redirected to Major Ahmed Riaz.
Maj Riaz said that according to procedure, only Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) officials were allowed to speak to media persons about such issues.
Dawn reached out to ISPR representatives for over a week, but they did not respond to requests for comment. Similarly, no one at the Capital Development Authority (CDA) was ready to say anything on the record regarding the construction currently taking place near the site of the proposed GHQ.
In off-the-record discussions, however, officials denied the possibility of any work on a new GHQ building.
Construction of this new building was suspended in October 2008 on the directives of then-Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, due to an economic crunch.
The project, worth an estimated Rs 80 billion, was initiated by former president retired General Pervez Musharraf in September 2004, but actual work on the site began around 2007.
Sources said that by 2008, nearly 10 per cent of the work on Defence Complex Islamabad had been completed. The project was to be completed in three phases: the first two phases involved the shifting of Pakistan Navy and Pakistan Air Force facilities to the new location. The last phase involved relocating the Ministry of Defense, Joint Staff Headquarters and General Headquarters.
Sources said that around 2,500 acres of land were acquired for the project. The new GHQ was to be constructed on 99 acres and 20 acres each were reserved for the Defence Ministry and Joint Staff Headquarters.
This covers Sectors E-10, D-11 and an area north of sector E-10, in the foothills of the Margallas.
These buildings would house different facilities, including apartments, houses, schools and hospitals for more than 17,000 employees of all grades who were originally supposed to be shifted from Rawalpindi to Islamabad.
It was Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had decided to shift GHQ to Islamabad in a cabinet meeting on March 29, 1972. This move was first discussed after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, when proper communication could not be established between the three services during Indian attacks.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2015