PPP Govt pressured army to suspend the new GHQ project‏


LAHORE: The Pakistan Army’s decision to suspend the construction of its new multi-billion General Headquarters in Islamabad due the worsening economic crisis faced by the country is largely motivated by the Zardari government’s opposition to the project in line with the Pakistan Peoples Party’s persistent stance since 2004 that the shifting of the GHQ in the middle of civilian sectors could literally turn the federal capital into a military cantonment besides putting civilian population at risk.

Since the inauguration of the Rs60 billion GHQ project by former president and army chief General (retd) Pervez Musharraf in September 2004, the PPP leadership had been arguing that there is no need to move the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army less than 20 kilometers from its present location, especially in the present age of electronic communications and new insights on institutional coordination. A press statement issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Tuesday said: “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, as the army leadership shared the nation’s quest for economic stability through a spirit of sacrifice”.

However, well informed official circles claim that the army high command had been moving ahead with its ambitious plan of shifting the General Headquarters from Rawalpindi to Islamabad despite facing opposition by the PPP government. According to them, it was only last month that the army leadership, following opposition of the project by the civilian government, had decided to raise funds for the same through disposal of prime properties of the army spread in the major cities all over Pakistan. The khakis’ decision was subsequently advertised in the national dailies on September 2, 2008, stating that both commercial and residential plots would be auctioned in Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Rawalpindi on September 22, 2008. A Land Disposal Cell was also set up in the GHQ to generate funds for construction of the General Headquarters, the Ministry of Defence and the Joint Staff Headquarters.

Asked as to who had approved the unique plan to offer prime state land in major cities for sale to raise funds for the GHQ’s construction, the official circles said it was the government of caretaker Prime Minister Mohammadmian Soomro who had okayed the proposal before the February 2008 elections. The Pentagon style military headquarters of the GHQ was being built on 100 acres of the Prime land in Islamabad while 20 acres each were reserved for the defence ministry and the Joint Staff Headquarters, respectively. The naval and air headquarters cover 30 and 40 acres respectively which have already been completed and shifted to the new site.

The official circles say the special interest being shown by the khakis in the GHQ project could be gauged from the fact that the recently replaced Chairman of the Capital Development Authority Kamran Lashari was summoned to the GHQ in Rawalpindi recently and directed to clear on war footing basis any hurdles in the establishment of a new General Headquarters in Islamabad. The CDA boss was also instructed to relocate with the help of the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) all villagers from D-11 so that infrastructural development could be started there. And last but not the least, the CDA chairman was directed to construct different approach roads around the site of the GHQ headquarters.

While performing the ground breaking of the GHQ project on September 6, 2004, General Pervez Musharraf had stated that the re-location of the headquarters of all three services at one place would ensure efficient working environment and create understanding among the staff at different tiers leading to better planning. However, Farhatullah Babar, then a senator as well as the spokesman of the PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, shot back, stating that the Musharraf regime had actually launched a huge housing scheme for the khakis in the name of the GHQ where residential units would be built at a cost of $2.4 billion over an area of 2,450 acres. His fellow Senators including Khawaja Saad Rafiq, Mushahidullah Khan and Syed Zafar Ali Shah had even claimed that it would be the only GHQ which would have 90 bungalows of six bedrooms each, 300 bungalows of four bedrooms each and 14,750 luxury apartments.

Farhatullah Babar had again questioned the shifting of the GHQ on the floor of the house in December 2006 in the backdrop of media reports saying the Capital Development Authority had suffered a huge loss of approximately Rs504 billion by providing an additional 870 acres of land for the construction of the GHQ in Sector E-10. He had alleged at that time that the Capital Development Authority had been made to give 1400 acres of land for construction of the GHQ at the foot of the Margalla hills at a throw away price of Rs 180 per square yard, without even assessing the market rate in the area that was Rs110, 000 to Rs120,000 per square yard at that time.

However, the ISPR spokesman was quick to defend the move at that time saying the land was purchased on the government directives after the price of the land was settled as per the rates being charged from other government departments and institutions which had to pay much lower than the commercial/auction value. The military spokesman had further rejected the dubbing of new GHQ as eighth wonder of the world as ludicrous propaganda, saying that the new GHQ building would focus on the improvement of functioning rather than providing luxury.

Yet, the PPP remained stuck to its principles stance on the GHQ project even after the 2008 polls while the new government was being put in place. In April 2008, the media quoted Farhatullah Babar as saying: “We will stick to our old position and if we deviate from it, media will be justified to criticise us.” Asked by the media people as to how the party intends to reopen the GHQ case, Farhatullah Babar said he had a comprehensive plan that would be shared with the media later.


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