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Senate panel takes up Army’s plan to shift GHQ to Islamabad today

Updated June 19, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Senate Standing Committee on Defence is meeting here today (Monday) to take up a host of important matters, including “the Pakistan Army’s plan to shift the Army’s General Headquarters to Islamabad”, reveals agenda for the meeting issued by the Senate Secretariat.

The 13-member committee headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed of the PML-Q will also receive briefing from the authorities concerned on the “Indian aggression across the Line of Control (LoC)” and on the “security situation at Pakistan’s western frontiers” with Afghanistan and Iran.

The committee will also discuss the issue of “the occupation of land by military and air force” in Quetta district. The issue had been raised in the Senate by Senators Usman Kakar, Azam Musakhel and Gul Bashra of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party through an adjournment motion.

The issue of the shifting of the GHQ from Rawalpindi to Islamabad came to light after nine years when an official of the Capital Development Authority earlier this month informed a sub-committee of the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that the military authorities had revived plans to shift the GHQ to the capital, and was ready to kick off construction on the project.

Interestingly, the sub-committee was also headed by Senator Mushahid Hussain.

An audit report had raised two objections with regards to the plan which, according to the audit claim, will cost the CDA over Rs4 billion. The audit report said the CDA had acquired 870 acres in sectors D-11 and E-10 for the GHQ at a rate of Rs1,159 per square yard, but allotted the land to the GHQ at a subsidised rate of Rs200 per sq yd.

The report said the subsidised allotment “resulted into loss to the authority amounting to Rs4,034 million”.

When a committee member asked why the CDA allotted subsidised land to the GHQ and why the authority did not charge the full amount, acting CDA Chairman Sheikh Ansar Aziz responded that the prime minister at the time had approved the subsidy, but if the PAC issued directives to charge the full amount, the authority could write to the federal government to pay the CDA the entire sum.

The committee subsequently issued directions for the CDA to receive the actual cost of the land and write to the federal government in this regard.

The army had announced in October 2008 that it had halted construction of the new GHQ in Islamabad because of the economic crisis faced by the country.

“The project of new GHQ’s construction in Islamabad has been suspended on the directives of Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani,” an official statement issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) had said, adding that the army shared the nation’s quest for economic stability through a spirit of sacrifice.

The project worth over Rs60bn had been inaugurated by then president and army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf in Sept 2004, but the actual work began in 2007.

‘Pentagon-style military headquarters’

Political parties, including the PPP and the PML-N, had severely criticised the project and called it a “Pentagon-style military headquarters”.

The PPP had raised the matter in the Senate in November 2004 and complained that the market price of 870 acres of land was Rs505.296bn while it was being provided to the military authorities for only Rs842m, causing a loss of Rs500bn to the CDA.

At the time of laying foundation stone of the GHQ Complex, Gen Musharraf had stated that in no way the shifting of these headquarters should increase the load on the existing facilities in Islamabad, such as schools and hospitals and expressed the hope that this project would be able to generate major economic activity in the capital.

The then ISPR Director-General, Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan, had informed the media persons that the government had earmarked 1,400 acres in Islamabad for construction of the defence ministry and office of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. He said due to paucity of financial resources, the construction work of the GHQ Complex could not be initiated, while the Naval and Air Force headquarters had already been set up. The DG had also said that the funds for the construction of the building would be managed through sale of surplus land in the different cantonments.

Speaking at a news conference in December 2005, the leaders of the PML-N had denounced the government’s plan to construct the new GHQ in the capital “as a huge housing scheme in the name of building “Defence Services Complex”.

Present Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq, information secretary Mushahidullah Khan and former lawmaker Syed Zafar Ali Shah had alleged that the GHQ project was the most expensive project in the country’s history.

The PML-N leaders had claimed that the new GHQ being constructed in the federal capital’s prime sectors of E-10 and D-11 would cost $2.4bn and would be the world’s largest GHQ when finished.

Mr Rafiq had even declared that “when completed the new GHQ would be the eighth wonder of the world”.

The PML-N leaders had also provided details of the project, claiming that according to their information, there would be 90 bungalows of six bedrooms, 300 bungalows of four bedrooms and 14,750 luxury apartments.

Besides this, they had claimed that three lakes covering 45 acres would be created inside the complex, which would have 12 schools and two colleges for the children of officers serving in the GHQ. Besides this, they had claimed that it would be the only GHQ in the world to have commercial high-rise buildings.

Asking the military leadership not to put “this huge financial burden on the poor people of the country”, they had also criticised the statement of the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz that the GHQ would be built by army through sale of its own lands.

“What will we do if tomorrow Pakistan railways starts selling its lands to build its head office in the same fashion,” Mr Rafiq, who interestingly holds the portfolio of the railways ministry now, had said.

There have been no official words from the ISPR on the issue despite the fact that the media has been reporting for quite some time about the military’s decision to revive the plan.

Published in Dawn, June 19th, 2017