July issue 2006

By | News & Politics | People | Q & A | Published 13 years ago

“There is no plot that is free of cost no matter what the person’s rank”

– Major General Shaukat Sultan, DG, ISPR

shaukat-sultan-july06

Major General Shaukat Sultan

Q: There is a growing perception among the people of Pakistan that the army is a big player in the real estate business: the military is planning to shift the GHQ to Islamabad; there are sprawling army housing schemes all over the country and there is the recent addition of DHA in Islamabad. How do you respond to this observation?

A:I totally disagree with the perception that the military is becoming a big player in real estate. Let us take each of these misperceptions one by one, starting with the shifting of the GHQ.

It is the entire defence complex that is being moved to Islamabad. This was part of the master plan of Islamabad. It was recommended by the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission Report and approved in March 1973 by the then defence committee of the cabinet chaired by Premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Since the air force headquarters were to move from Peshawar and there was already a base available at Chaklala, it was moved in two phases. In phase one, it was moved from Peshawar to Chaklala, and in phase two, from Peshawar to Islamabad. The naval headquarters were to move from Karachi. Obviously there was no naval base in Islamabad, so they moved in one go, from Karachi to Islamabad.

The office building of all the three services, the JS headquarters and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), is one complex. Due to paucity of funds that plan was delayed. However, its planning has been done over a period of time.

The land acquisition started a long time back as per the government rates. The money used is neither funds of the army nor do they belong to anyone else. These are funds of the government and when the land is paid for, the funds will again go into the government exchequer. It has nothing to do with the business of real estate.

There is a gross misperception that the GHQ will be huge, spanning over 2,400 acres. The army’s GHQ is going to be 99 acres. The office block, comprising the JS headquarters, the three service headquarters and the defence ministry, is approximately150 acres, which is very small. The other area that is generally talked about as being 2,400 acres comprises the military schools, colleges, university, hospital and residential areas of around 10,000 employees. When these 10,000 employees move out from Rawalpindi, there will still be about 40,000 army personnel left but the congestion would be fairly reduced.

As for army housing societies, every organisation caters for the welfare of its employees, for instance both the Police Foundation and the Judicial Foundation do this. In Islamabad you can see the sectors that are reserved for the housing schemes dedicated to federal government employees, as well as societies for provincial government [employees]. In Karachi, you have PECHS for government employees.

This situation is not unique to the employees of the Pakistan Army. Every army in the world, whether it be the US, British or French, has welfare schemes for its employees. Go to their websites and see for yourself. As far as army housing schemes are concerned, I became a member of the army housing scheme in 1981, when I was a major. Membership is by choice and you have to apply for it. After my name was shortlisted, I made the required down payment and I have been paying Rs 1,000 per month out of my salary for the past 25 years. At the time of retirement, the gross amount paid during service after adding the accumulated interest etc, is calculated against the cost of the house. After paying the additional amount, you get possession of the house.

The house given to a military officer is not free of cost; it is paid for, but it is certainly far below market price. Now the advantage of being an army employee is that I have a guaranteed house at the time of my retirement. I don’t have to worry about construction of a house and I can fully pay attention to my job and work. The house is neither built with defence funds nor on military land. The army, as an organisation, has set up a housing directorate to cater for these housing schemes.

The defence housing authorities are totally different institutions. They are for the purposes of welfare, and exclusive to the army. However, they have space for all the three services — army, navy and air force — along with a certain quota for government employees. There is no burden on the government exchequer or the defence organisations. The good thing about the DHA is that land developers start building societies around it. Land developers can learn from the DHA experience and the way they are managed. It has nothing to do with the army except that one brigadier is posted there as administrator. He works under the supervision of the army, but the rest of the employees are retired army personnel.

Q: Various DHAs are accused of forcing people to sell their land to the authority. Additionally, there are various private sector land developers who acquire land for the DHA and frequently harass people into selling their land. How do you respond to such allegations?

A: There are housing societies throughout the country — private housing societies as well as public sector ones. For building a new set of houses, of course, the land has to be acquired from the people. The area may be under cultivation or may be private property. The market mechanism decides the price.

To point fingers only at the DHA and say that we force people out would be absolutely wrong. No person is forced to sell at lower than the market price. For example, there is a village in the centre of DHA Lahore whose residents didn’t want to sell and vacate the holding, so they are still there. No one has been forced out. The villagers, generally with lesser holdings of land, prefer to sell it. When the owners of one acre or more are made offers to sell at market prices, their land is turned into gold.

Q: The military is accused of acquiring both agricultural and urban land.

A: The military does not acquire agricultural or urban land. Most of the land that is allotted is barren. These schemes are initiated by the provincial governments, they fix a price and fix the quota for different government departments. Police officials, judges and other bureaucrats get the land — it is not the army alone that is allotted land. After a certain number of years of service, government employees are given the opportunity to buy land — there are certain criteria on the basis of career postings etc. that are applied to determine how much land is to be allotted to a certain individual. After about 34 years of service, I have been allotted 20 acres of land and I paid for this according to the rate fixed by the provincial government, just like every other government servant. The total tilling contract I receive for this land is around Rs 80,000 per year, which is partially cultivable and partially barren.

Q: A research book authored by Kamal Siddiqui and published by the Oxford University Press says a major general and above rank officer gets 240 acres of land, while a lieutenant to major gets 100 acres of land from the military. Is this true?

A: This is absolutely absurd. The agricultural land can be up to 40 acres. It is absolutely wrong if someone says a major general and above is given 240 acres.

Q: What facilities are provided to senior military officers for the development of their agricultural land?

A: There is no facility for the development of this agricultural land. Rather, using government funds in this manner comes under the realm of misuse of resources, which is taken very seriously in our institution.

Q: There are many instances where A-1 land has been converted to private property in direct contravention of the law specified in the Military Land Manual. Specifically, it bars the conversion of A-1 land for any purpose other than military operations. Why is this being done?

A: None of the A-1 lands are converted to housing schemes. The land acquired for residential purposes is used for housing societies. There may be some units built on A-1 land, but those units are not the private property of individuals.

Q: How many plots does a senior military officer get at the time of retirement?

A: At various lengths of service, there are certain schemes that are announced. This is not new, and even in the 1970s a second lieutenant could apply for them. Later, the army realised that it was not wise to give young officers plots as they are likely to waste money and are irresponsibile. [Offering real estate] has now been linked with a good career. If you put in years of good service you merit the facility, and if you have discipline entries, you don’t. At various lengths of service, you become eligible for these schemes, but you have to apply for it. I have a plot in Hummak, near Islamabad, for which I became eligible in 1994 as a colonel. I started depositing the money after making the initial payment. In year 2001, it was allotted to me and the army acquired the land with the initial amount that we submitted in 1994. I have paid all its instalments, up to 2005. The only thing that the army did was that they acquired the land for us and developed the scheme, improving its market value, which is an added advantage.

There is no plot that is free of cost, no matter what the person’s rank. The first exception is the families of martyrs. The next of kin of martyrs are given a plot or house as a matter of welfare. Almost every army officer is a member of a housing scheme because he pays for it. If he embraces shahadat at any time of his service, the remaining cost of the house he was paying for is waived by the army housing society. Secondly those who have lost their limbs, too, get the houses free of cost.

Q: How many housing schemes have been built for jawans as opposed to officers?

A: Most of the jawans prefer to settle in their own ancestral areas. If someone has rendered some meritorious services, there is a quota in DHA Lahore for the jawans. The JCO (Junior Commissions Officer) retiring with meritorious service and service of up to 20 to 25 years would definitely get agricultural land. There are schemes for residential plots to which he can apply. However, so far there is no existing housing scheme for JCOs etc. It is under consideration and approved in principle.

Q: Allegedly, the Pakistan Navy has restricted the movement of fishermen in certain villages in coastal areas. Further, in some cases, the navy is forcing people out of their villages. Your comments.

A: In order to answer this question properly, we need specifics. For example, the land might have been acquired by the navy some time back and the price also paid to the government then. We don’t know whether they paid the price to the villagers or not. We would have to talk about this with specific areas and incidents and I cannot give you a general statement.

Q: Under the law, national parks meant for conservation cannot be allotted to any department and thus cannot be used for residential or building purposes. But the military has acquired land for its defence complex that was originally allocated for National Park III in Islamabad. How do you justify this?

A: Out of the 2,400 acres, there is more than 800 acres being left as a green area for conservation purposes — particularly the area at the foothills of Margallas. But that is being acquired for the purpose of security. However, here the laws of CDA would be completely adhered to.

Q: Is it true that the military has acquired the land in Islamabad at throwaway prices and inflicted a loss of over Rs 500 billion to the CDA?

A: This is absolutely absurd. The government land has been given to other departments at a particular rate. There is no question of loss as the land has been acquired at government rates.

Q: It is feared that the presence of military trucks and heavy diesel-run vehicles would pollute the environment of Islamabad. How do you deal with such apprehensions?

A: It is a historical fact that the culture and environment is improved wherever the army goes. The defence complex in Islamabad is going to raise the overall look of the area. Firstly, it will certainly be well-maintained. Secondly, 70 per cent of the civilian children will be studying in schools, colleges and the university in the defence complex in Islamabad. There are no heavy trucks in the GHQ. There are more cars. There are no operational units in the GHQ. There are more offices here. Hence, the percentage of heavy trucks is going to be very low.

Q: Despite the miraculous development in information and telecommunication technology, why do you still find it necessary to shift the General Headquarters to Islamabad?

A: Co-location of the three services headquarters still remains a very strategic compulsion, but that is not the only compulsion. Despite the advancement in IT and telecom, co-location is still a compulsion. In fact, it is of paramount importance to have the three services headquarters close to each other. For security reasons, it is necessary to have the headquarters in the same premises as everything that is transmitted through satellite is not safe. During a war, there may be many things that you will not want to be discussing on telephone or via a conference call.

Q: What was the reason for the delay in relocating the GHQ and related institutions?

A: For many years, the plans were to shift the GHQ to Islamabad, but there was a shortage of funds. The politically elected governments had been delaying certain vital decisions, whether they related to dams, roads or shifting of the GHQ. [Now] government land, in the military’s use [elsewhere in the country], would be sold off and the money would certainly go into the government’s kitty, which would then be used for the construction of the defence complex. This is going to be a phased project.

Q: Will there be any army housing societies on the land allotted for the defence complex?

A: There will not be any housing society. There will not be any privately owned housing scheme. Not an inch will be privately allotted to any individual. All the commercial, as well as residential areas, will belong to the government.