WASHINGTON DC, Aug 24, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

The First Book based on Articles and Forum Discussions of South Asia Tribune has been published in Pakistan. It is a compilation of articles written for the SAT by Dr. Zafar Altaf, former Federal Secretary and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. It includes most of the Messages and Comments posted on these articles on SAT Forums. The Book will soon be available through the Internet Book outlets. It is already on sale in Pakistan.

 

A Satellite Picture of Bahria Town in Rawalpindi, taken from its Web site

The Land Scams in the Name of the Sacred Soldiers

By M Afzal Khan

ISLAMABAD, August 24: Land scams that are proliferating across the country, specially in the name of our Armed Forces, have come into sharp focus, sadly because of murder of two guards of a high profile housing society in the federal capital.

First it was the National Assembly last night and next morning the Senate, where members from both sides of the isle voiced their outrage over the blatant manner in which this housing society used the name of Pakistan Navy to generate massive public interest and money in its highly publicized schemes.

Lawmakers of the area said the developer purchased the land from poor villagers around Islamabad cheaply and sold plots at hugely inflated price. The violence reported in the press was attributed to allegation by some of these sellers that they have been cheated. In the end two innocent guards were caught in the fray and killed.

The developer has shown ingenuity and innovation both in designs and marketing. These have made his various offerings one of the most attractive in the country, after the defence housing schemes. Few, perhaps, would grudge that, had it all been a fair and clean affair. But many lawmakers pointed accusing fingers at top political, civil and military figures whose patronage has gone along with it.

Former law minister Sen. Dr. Khalid Ranjha pointed out that it was a criminal offence to use for any private commercial venture, the name of an official organization, more so an arm of the military. “Bahria Town“ was originally purported to be a project of the Pakistan Navy. But a former navy chief allegedly allowed the present developer for unknown reasons and consideration.

On a number of occasions the developer has been running into trouble with the top government functionaries, including the NAB. He was even jailed. But in the end he escaped unscathed and expanded his business to incredible proportions. In private sector, he is, perhaps, the top-most real estate tycoon in the country.

The lawmakers particularly took note of the latest offer in what was called Bahria Town-Phase 9. The publicity preceding the offering had set about a week for the people to file prescribed forms. The forms were available in some selected banks. But on the first day it was announced that within first six hours, 40,000 forms were distributed by banks to the applicants exhausting all supplies. Many bank branches witnessed virtual riots and damage to buildings caused by dejected prospective buyers who were unable to get any form.

To top it all, the developer announced that all the 40,000 applicants would be given plots if they deposited the down payment within the due date. Apparently, it was inconceivable that the developer actually owned 40,000 plots. The two announcements sent the market in a tail spin. The frenzy that ensued led to black market sale and resale of forms at exorbitant prices ranging from Rs15,000 to Rs60,000.

The lawmakers were intrigued by the way the forms were distributed. Influential people were given scores of these forms before sending them to the banks. This writer overheard two people in an escalator talking about the forms two days after the event. “Sir, you had promised to get me some forms,” one gentleman said. “Don’t you worry. An FIA director has been given 20 and has promised to share five with me.”

Many lawmakers were perturbed that the real estate craze has overtaken the society and widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots to a vulgar level. You go to any office – private, public, civil, military - the most favorite topic is the housing schemes.

The prices in all major cities, including Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi have skyrocketed. While the lucky ones with money and connections have made windfall profits in buying and selling, the less fortunate have nothing but to curse their luck. For most of the middle and lower class strata of the society, the price of land to build houses has gone out of their reach.

A reasonably employed and paid person cannot even think of buying a servant quarter sized plot of land in Islamabad for his entire lifelong savings. Building a house has become a fantasy. In other major cities, things are no different.

The most coveted societies, of course, are the defence housing societies in major cities. The President last week felt peeved by the fact that “pseudo intellectuals” feel jealous about these societies. According to him these are best developed and managed. If some army officer sells a plot for hundred times the cost at which he was allotted, so argued the President, why should people grudge or feel jealous about it.

The President says only the retired military officers are looking after these societies which also provide employment and generate development activity. He conveniently ignores the fact of the involvement of officer corps in allotment, sale and resale of plots. Untold stories about higher echelons overseeing these schemes have tainted the image of the institution.

Moreover the defence housing societies have become an obscene feature of our elite culture that is far removed from the rest of the populace. It generates, not just the” jealousy” which the President has referred to, but irrepressible rage and revulsion among the less privileged.

There are reports of a new town being planned in Bedian between Lahore and Wagah, where only eight-acre plots for mansions and estates would be developed.

For the country, investment in real estate from within and abroad, has replaced capital formation for productive use in the economy. Pakistan’s economy has more or less become a real estate economy. Huge capital has been invested in this unproductive sector. Little is thus available for investment in genuine economic activity. The land grab mafia has sprouted in every town and city, boosting all sorts of crimes and corruption.

President Musharraf set a noble example in 1999 when he declared his assets after taking over. Eye brows were, however, raised, why he had to have seven or eight plots, including commercial plots, in different defence housing societies across the country.

Asfandyar Wali Khan was intrigued by the revelation that the President owns a plot in Gwadar as well. "Is he going to build a house and live there," he had asked. Recently when he purchased a five-acre farm in Islamabad which is worth crores, it was stated that he sold one of his commercial plots in Lahore to pay for that.

It is argued that the President had done nothing illegal as the rules permit an army officer to get more than one plot. The point is, how far is this ethically correct. If he surrenders his other plots and makes the rule that only one plot can be allotted to any officer in the country for building a house, the President would radically change the entire environment of “jealousy”. Instead, he would create tremendous goodwill for himself and the institution.

In this context an encounter with another military dictator is instructive. When in 1976, Gen. Zia was named COAS, this writer and another dear friend who also knew Zia since he was Lt. Colonel, invited him to a cup of tea at the Multan Press Club. This friend was building a house but had not been able to complete it.

Zia asked him:” Masood Sahib, have you been able to build your house?” Zia was told that it is as yet not even half complete. “Masood Sahib, I am sure you will be able to build it now that you have started it. Look at me. I am at the fag end of my career, and I cannot even think of building a house.”

How many generals, nay even captains and majors of today can repeat those words?

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