Published in The Nation
by M. Ashgar Khan
The shifting of the Army’s General Headquarters from Rawalpindi to Islamabad has been planned for some time and was given a fresh impetus during 2007. We have not been told what the total financial burden of this move will be but the cost of land alone at the prevalent rates in Islamabad is about Rs 100,000 to Rs 120,000 per sq yard.
The army would, of course, not be required to pay this amount for the land to the CDA but the CDA could earn this amount if they were to sell this land to civilians for residential or commercial purposes. The expenditure involved is believed to be more than the total Defence Budget of Pakistan for the current year and many times more than the education budget of the country. In a country where millions do not get a square meal a day, where we are woefully short of schools and medical facilities and where even clean drinking water is not available for the ordinary citizen, to spend such a large amount on moving an existing facility a few miles cannot be justified.
In 1965, the Air Headquarters was in Peshawar and we were operating with bare essentials from barracks built at least half a century earlier. We were at a distance of over a hundred miles from the government in Rawalpindi and this did not hamper the PAF from carrying out its mission. Naval Headquarters was in Karachi and this did not in any way hamper their operations either. In fact this was a blessing in disguise as it did not have people who knew little about air operations breathing down the PAF’s neck. In my view the move of Air Headquarters from Peshawar to Islamabad and of Naval Headquarters from Karachi to Islamabad involving heavy expenditure were totally unnecessary and a burden on the limited national resources. All this is part of a trend that has developed over the years, of wasteful expenditure and high living of our military and civilian rulers.
By today’s standards, the conditions in which our military and civilian officer functioned for the first few years of Pakistan would be called primitive and even until the 70’s offices had only the essentials in furniture and facilities. Essential requirements were provided but luxuries and unnecessary frills were not to be seen. In the thirty years since, the style of living of some of our civil and military officers of senior ranks resembles that of business tycoons. The offices of some general officers and senior bureaucrats which should have a Spartan look, often resemble the drawing rooms of successful businessmen. This is also true of most of our civilian rulers who seem to have forgotten that they are the representatives of a poor country, the majority of whose people are living a life of poverty and squalor.
It would, I think, be too much to expect the military and our civilian rulers to give up the style of living they have become accustomed to. Is it however too much to ask that the Army should give up the move of GHQ to Islamabad which is a burden on the poor taxpayer of Pakistan and will add to his misery and problems. It is unlikely that this will be properly discussed in the budget session of the National Assembly or that the planned expenditure on this project will be disclosed even to the elected representatives of the people. The budget session of the National Assembly without a full discussion of the Defence Budget will therefore remain the farce that it has always been.
The writer is ex-air marshal