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Helipad controversy for Pakistan's new PM

June 26, 2012


Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. - Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: The private home of Pakistan's new prime minister may be furnished with a helipad at government expense to save police securing the 14-mile road trip from the capital, officials said Tuesday.

Police told AFP that helipads are customary additions to private residences as part of “VVIP” security arrangements.

But critics lashed out at the arrangements as “disappointing” after Raja Pervez Ashraf said his first priority would be to resolve crippling power cuts that leave millions without electricity for up to 18 hours a day.

Ashraf, who took office on Friday, has moved into the premier's official residence but like previous incumbents is expected to spend weekends at his private home in Gujar Khan, 23 kilometres south of the capital.

“Senior officials visited the site on Monday to review security arrangements. A site has already been selected for the helipad and its construction will commence very soon,” one police official told AFP.

He declined to speculate on the expense, but said the helipad would save police from “the hassle” of finding personnel to man a staggering 300 security points that would otherwise be needed between Islamabad and Gujar Khan.

Ashraf's boss, President Asif Ali Zardari, is famously so nervous about security that he travels by helicopter even on the short distance to the airport.

But other officials said a helipad was just one of a number of proposals being considered for the premier's security and that there was no final decision.

Critics said it would send the wrong message when millions live in poverty, financial crisis could force Pakistan back to the IMF and relations with Washington are on the brink.

“He is enjoying all the perks of his position while ignoring the country's economic problems,” said a spokesman for the main opposition PML-N party, Siddiq-ul Farooq.

“It's a waste of money. It's not surprising that a helipad is being made - that is how Pakistani prime ministers behave,” said political commentator Hasan Askari.

Opinions of Pakistan's rulers “will not change until they perform,” he added.

Ashraf is a controversial choice for prime minister.

The Supreme Court last week dismissed his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, for contempt for refusing to reopen corruption cases against the president.

Ashraf only took office after a judge issued an arrest warrant for the first suggested replacement.

He faces corruption allegations from his tenure as water and power minister.