ISLAMABAD: After the opening of three Governor Houses and a government rest house in Murree to the general public, the highly secured and spacious President House, commonly known as Aiwan-i-Sadr, is set to welcome visitors on Saturday (Dec 8).
A spokesman for President House Tahir Khushnood told Dawn on Wednesday that they had decided to open President House only for one day and people with their families could visit it from 9am to 4pm. So far no decision had been made to make it a regular feature, he said.
Mr Khushnood said the move was in line with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) promise to allow public access to the state buildings. Under this policy, he said, the governor houses had already been opened to the general public.
No decision yet to make it a regular feature, according to spokesperson
On Saturday, the spokesman said, the visitors would have the opportunity to take a round of a mini-zoo inside President House, besides enjoying walk on green lawns and visiting the historic halls situated on the fifth floor, where oath-taking ceremonies of top government functionaries, including the prime ministers, took place.
Asked about the difficulties which the visitors could face due to the [residency’s location in the highly-secured Red Zone area], Mr Khushnood said the government would definitely devise a plan in consultation with police and security agencies and the visitors would be allowed to enter the premises after a thorough search.
Spread over a vast area on Constitution Avenue between the Parliament House building and Pakistan Secretariat’s cabinet block, President House had remained a centre of politics in the past when the country had strong presidents having the power to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss an elected government under Article 58-2(B) of the Constitution, introduced first time by the military dictator and then army chief Gen Ziaul Haq in 1985 through the Eighth Amendment. The controversial article had been used by former presidents Gen Zia, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Sardar Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari four times since 1988.
It was during the previous government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) under the then president Asif Ali Zardari that parliament through the 18th Amendment removed the controversial article from the Constitution in 2010. However, since Mr Zardari was also the head of the party, therefore, President House remained in the political focus almost throughout the PPP’s tenure until the Supreme Court took notice of the use of the official residence of the president, who should be a non-partisan person as head of the state, for political meetings.
As the military rulers, Gen Zia and Gen Pervez Musharraf, mostly lived in Army House in Rawalpindi, they occasionally used President House as their residence.
Prime Minister Imran Khan himself has not been residing at PM House and the government is working on a plan to convert it into a research university.
A month after Mr Khan assumed office, Governor Houses in Karachi (Sindh), Lahore (Punjab) and Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) were opened for general public.
The Sindh Governor House was the first state building that had been opened to the general public. On the occasion, Governor Imran Ismail himself greeted visitors and took a round of the gardens as well as some sections of the building which had been cordoned off. The visitors were happy to see the office of Father of the Nation Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and eagerly took in the memorabilia.
Later, Punjab Governor House in Lahore and a rest house known as Government House in Murree were also opened for public on the PM’s directives.
The Government House is an architectural legacy of British rule, and has been the site of several historic events. In 1960, then president Gen Ayub Khan and Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru met at Government House in Murree.
Later, then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto met Indian minister for external affairs Swaran Singh at Government House, where they sat by a window through which Kashmir could be seen to illustrate to the Indian minister how close Kashmir was to Pakistan. Bhutto also stayed at Government House for three days to prepare for a visit to India for the Simla talks, and was confined there when Gen Ziaul Haq imposed martial law.
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif used to visit Government House regularly and was confined there when Gen Musharraf imposed martial law. Gen Musharraf also stayed at Government House when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed.
On September 30, the historic Governor House in Peshawar was opened for general public. On the occasion, Governor Shah Farman welcomed students of three government girls colleges.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2018