ISLAMABAD, March 21: There are fears that a diplomatic stand-off between the US and Pakistan may be triggered over a seemingly minor matter – the revision of the height of the new US embassy complex in Islamabad.

After a local intelligence agency raised concerns, the city managers have decided to limit the height of the new US embassy complex to four storeys instead of seven, a source privy to the development told Dawn on Wednesday.

“The intelligence agency wrote a letter to the CDA two weeks ago in which it termed the building plan of the US embassy a ‘security hazard’,” the source revealed, “the spy agency expressed fears that movement and activities in important buildings – including the Presidency, Prime Minister House and Parliament House – could be easily monitored from the rooftop of the complex.”

“The intelligence agency asked the CDA to explain how it could approve a seven-storey structure in the Diplomatic Enclave, and urged the CDA to take appropriate action,” he added.

After receiving the letter the CDA was reportedly left in a fix: on one hand, it could not afford to defy the instructions of the intelligence agency while on the other it had no courage to unilaterally revoke and revise the approved plan of an embassy of a super power.

It is worth mentioning that the building blueprint was approved in January 16 this year by a committee comprising officials of the CDA, representatives of Planning, Emergency and Disaster Management and members nominated by the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners. Not one of them had raised an objection.

“The committee which approved it was satisfied with various features presented in the construction plans, which included an energy efficient design with the facilities of rain-water harvesting and sewage treatment plant,” the official said.

He added that the site plan of the US embassy was approved under new building by-laws enforced since 2007 in Islamabad under which ground plus seven storeys are allowed for the buildings in Diplomatic Enclave. Earlier only four storeys were allowed there.However, for now it seems that CDA Chairman Farkhand Iqbal will not allow more than four storeys for the embassy’s complex.

“We will definitely take appropriate action and will ask US authorities to stop construction of the embassy complex till further decision is taken by the CDA in this regard,” he told Dawn.

“Presently enforced building by-laws were approved in 2007 when I was not in the CDA but I will bring US embassy’s building plan again to the CDA board for revision,” he claimed.

“I have issued instructions that the US embassy’s building should not be higher than four storeys,” the chairman added.

On the other hand, another official of the CDA is not convinced that this will be fruitful. “The CDA cannot take any action on its own to revise the US building plan or keep it intact. The issue would have to be settled at an appropriate and higher forum like the Foreign Office,” he said.

He added that the spy agency has been informed that no action can be taken unless the government intervened.



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