September Issue 2005
The Pakistani military high-command is going ahead with its ambitious plan of shifting the Army General Headquarters from Rawalpindi to Islamabad, despite widespread criticism from opposition circles, who maintain that the country’s security or inter-services’ coordination are unlikely to benefit by moving the GHQ 20 kilometres away from its present location.
The GHQ is moving from the garrison town of Rawalpindi to a sprawling Pentagon-style headquarters in Islamabad. Scheduled to be completed by September 2007, the GHQ Headquarters is being set up in E-10 and E-11 sectors, considered to be the most expensive and exclusive urban real estate in the country, worth billions of rupees. Sprawling over more than 1400 acres of land, the GHQ complex will house the Ministry of Defence, the Army Headquarters, the office of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, hundreds of residences for army officers and generals and a huge golf course.
The Capital Development Authority was made to give 1400 acres at the foot of the Margalla hills at a throwaway price of 180 rupees per square yard, as against the market rate of 110,000 rupees to 120,000 rupees per square yard. The construction of the new GHQ Complex started on September 6, 2004, when General Pervez Musharraf laid the foundation stone, saying the relocation of the headquarters of all three services at one place would ensure an efficient and smooth working environment, leading to better planning at all tiers of the armed forces.
Critics of the move, however, recall that it was actually the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report that had recommended that the three service headquarters should be in one place at a time when communication technology was in its infancy. However, 35 years down the road, with the advent of IT, the move seems wasteful and unnecessary and will turn Islamabad into an army cantonment. Though the army is allegedly acquiring hundreds of acres of land ostensibly for the GHQ shift, critics maintain the real purpose was to dish out plots to the men-in-khaki at dirt cheap prices.
Opposition circles in Islamabad are demanding a review of the decision to construct the new GHQ in the federal capital on prime real estate. The ambitious GHQ project has already come under sharp criticism by civilians after the army’s recent demand for the provision of an additional 315 acres at a similar throwaway price, which would cause the CDA a staggering loss of billions of rupees, besides causing the dislocation of around 3,500 families living in Chauntra village. Reliable sources say in addition to the 1,400 acres already allotted for the GHQ Complex, the CDA was made to transfer another 870 acres at a stingy 200 rupees per square yard in November 2004, though the market rate of land in adjacent sectors is at least 120,000 rupees per square yard.
The additional land was allotted to the GHQ despite some serious objections raised by the opposition parties. Two PPP senators, Farhatullah Babar and Enver Baig, submitted an adjournment motion in the Senate on November 29, 2004 against the move, stating that the additional land was being sold at 200 rupees per square yard against the market value of over 110,000 rupees per square yard. They further stated that the market rate of 870 acres is 505.296 billion rupees, while it was being provided to the military authorities for just 842 million rupees, causing a 500 billion rupee loss to the CDA. The motion added: “The land falls in the area of the national park zone-III, which under the master plan cannot be sold or purchased or used for construction purposes.” The two senators were of the view that any construction in the national park zone would damage the environment. They also maintained that the CDA land, being public property, could not be sold in a manner which caused such a colossal loss to the state.
The Pakistan Muslim League Chief Coordinator and former Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Ahsan Iqbal, claims that the additional land is being acquired to construct a massive golf course and hundreds of palatial houses for the army generals. He feels that if the GHQ Complex is to be built at all, it should be built on the land originally ear-marked for the project. Otherwise, according to Iqbal, an army command structure in the heart of the federal capital would make the city a prime military target and put the civilian population at great risk. “The General Headquarters should remain at its present location and only if there is a compelling need for constructing a new GHQ on the pattern of the Malaysian Putrajaya, should it be constructed on either the Islamabad-Lahore motorway, or some other suitable location away from the federal capital. Establishing an army complex in the heart of Islamabad, will destroy its civil character and turn it into a cantonment,” says Ahsan Iqbal.
However, refuting the apprehensions expressed by the PML-N leader, Director General Inter Services Public Relations, Major General Shaukat Sultan, claimed that all expenses for the construction of the new GHQ are being incurred by the Pakistan Army from its own resources. He said the perception that the GHQ project would cause a 500 billion rupee loss to the CDA was incorrect. “The property owned by the army in Rawalpindi and other cities is being sold to generate finances for the construction of the GHQ Complex.” He refuted reports that the shifting of GHQ was decided after the assassination attempts on General Musharraf.
According to GHQ sources, it was former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had actually decided to shift the GHQ Headquarters to Islamabad[ in a cabinet meeting on March 29, 1972]. The shifting of the GHQ to Islamabad was first discussed after the 1965 Indo-Pak war, during which proper communication could not be established between the three services — the army, the navy and the air force — especially during Indian attacks. Therefore, it was decided to relocate the headquarters of the three military services to Islamabad. The Pakistan Navy was given top priority as it had to shift from Karachi, followed by the Pakistan Air Force that had to move from Peshawar. The GHQ delayed its shifting due to the enormous cost involved.