This blog post will provide a useful insight to the policymakers in terms of setting its strategic direction, defining its priorities and deciding the future plans of the PTI government as they will soon be scratching their heads, taking up the issue of the best and optimal utilization of the Prime Minister and Governor Houses. This shall also be a litmus test for the new government, how it is moving about meeting its commitment.
Imran Khan, the PTI Chairman and the Prime Minister-in-waiting, in his victory speech categorically reiterated his commitment that he would not use the Prime Minister House as his residence and that his party would later decide about the fate of the building. He maintained, “Our government will decide what we will do with Prime Minster House”. “I would be ashamed to live in such a large house. That house will be converted into an educational institution or something of the sort”, he added. Previously, in his numerous TV interviews, several Talk Shows and a number of public speeches, Khan promised to convert the Governor Houses into public places. In one of his interview with Mubashir Luqman, a TV anchor and host, Khan recapitulated that he was eying the Punjab Governor House for quite some time. But his commitment could not be materialized due to the PML-N government in the center. Khan received scathing criticism for making tall claims without delivering anything on the ground and was labeled as ‘all talk no action’. This time many people appeared to be curious and many more, skeptic, believing that the institutional juggernaut shall not allow him to fulfill his commitment. Nevertheless, one has not to wait for long to see that happen.
I visited the Governor House, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, multiple times, in connection with the official engagements and a couple of times, for personal reasons. Even with the exhausting security protocol one has to pass through, I was fascinated by its serene beauty, lush green lawns, pure white building, spacious offices and immensely large committee rooms. However, I could not, by any stretch of my imagination, visualize the splendor, luxury, royalty and exquisiteness of other Governor Houses such as Punjab and Sindh, let alone the Prime Minster House in Islamabad. At that very moment, I, too, could not realize that this architectural beauty, a house of spectacular grandeur, a splendid palatial structure will be converted into a public place, any time soon.
Majesty of the Prime Minister House
The Prime Minister House in Islamabad is located on the main Constitution Avenue, covering an area of 135 acres and luxuriously appointed. This area is four times as capacious as the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. The red-brick, heavily guarded building is modeled after the Mughal era palaces that exhibited majesty and royalty. It features 05 spacious lawns, a fruit orchard, swimming pools, banquet halls, conference halls, multiple committee rooms, helipad and a spacious parking lot. Having at least ten servant quarters, residences for security officers, staff, the PM House is manned by 500 full-time staff with around 50 protocol officers.
The exquisiteness of the Governors Houses
The Governor Houses in all the four provinces and its exquisite satellite rest houses in the scenic hilly resorts are located in historic and palatial buildings at prime locations. The Governor House in Punjab is situated in the beautiful walled complex at Mall Road and is reported to be larger in size than the University of Punjab. The residence is a typical mansion, built among a large expanse of surrounding lawns and gardens with a treasure trove of antiques and collectibles. The Governor House Sindh, previously known as the Government House, Governor-General House and the President House sited along Aiwan-e-Sadar Road Karachi is the official residence of the Governor of Sindh. Built in 1939, this historical building served as the residence of several prominent figures, including Governor-Generals of Pakistan. The Governor House in Baluchistan, placed in the beautiful and historical building at Zarghoon Road Quetta, is the residence of the Governor Baluchistan. In the same way, the Governor House in Peshawar, located in a 19th century historic and extravagant building, close to the Peshawar Museum serves as the official residence of the Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The contiguous plan
To move into that direction, at this point of time, a house in the Ministers’ Enclave in Islamabad has been declared as the official residence of Imran Khan, who is set to become Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, as his private house at Bani Gala is vulnerable to risks and threats, nevertheless, he insisted for the lowest category house at the enclave which was not recommended for numerous glitches in making necessary security arrangements there.
Since the PTI chairman has announced that the PM House will be converted into “an educational institution or something of the sort” and for the “something of the sort” there are multiple options available on hand. For instance, these Houses can be converted into a public place, health facility, public library, Museum, Public Park, Hotel, Center of Excellence or a full-fledged university. Here, we would explore these options, deliberating upon its merits and demerits and make some workable recommendations about the most salutary option.
- Public place: If these structures are converted into a public place of the sort of Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore Fort, Pakistan Monument, Red Fort or Shalimar Garden, there is every possibility that these public places will be frequented by the visitors. For the numerous idiosyncratic characteristics, the places will be more popular in the provinces such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, where such public places are few and far between. However, I feel, these buildings are not considered to be perfect for conversion into public places for its makeup, sensitive location and other more viable and practical alternatives.
- Health facility: Keeping in view the diminishing quality of health care system in the country, this would be an idyllic choice to convert these building or some of these into health facilities of international standards such as an Institute for Liver Transplant or a Cancer Research Center. But, in fact, any decision on this account would require a great deal of spadework and consultation with technical experts as the health facility of any nature requires purpose-built-building. A decision without proper consultation with the relevant health professionals and technical experts will be share wastage. This reminds me of the tale of the Judicial Complex Peshawar, the purpose-built-building for the courts and allied offices. At that time of its completion, it was revealed that the new complex is not capacious enough to accommodate all the attached offices and was thought to be handed over to any other department and a new spacious building would be built for the Judicial Complex. Ironically, one strong argument emanated in favour of dedicating the building to be used as a Hospital which was not intended for it, in the first instance.
- Public library: Having visited one of the best libraries in the world, the British Library, I always aspired for such gigantic setups in my country. Notwithstanding, there are around 1,500 public libraries, unfortunately, the visitors to public libraries and the number of book readers are on the decline in the country. This initiative will be a gargantuan boost in that direction.
- Museum: The development of museums in the country has been spectacular and the last decade has seen quite a few museums being established and many others reorganized along modern lines. Some of these are housed in stunningly imposing historical buildings of the British era, displaying the finest specimens of Gandhara civilization, tribal life, the Mughal Empire and ethnography. However, a number of these Museums are not properly maintained. The rich cultural heritage of the area requires some more to be established. The conversion of some of these houses into museums will be, undoubtedly, a great contribution to the preservation of national heritage.
- Public Park: These sites can also be used as public parks but the splendid buildings, with well-furnished offices, spacious conference rooms and multiple committee rooms with residential accommodation will be share wastage.
- Hotel: It is another viable option and a fabulous source of revenue generation for the country. The spacious rooms available in these building can best be customized. In fact, the hotel industry is predominantly occupied by the private sector and the public sector is shy to initiate such venture. Indeed, there are numerous avenues available for such investment in the provinces particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. All the public sector bodies and organizations can get benefited from the facility as there is no other alternative available to them in the government sector.
- Centers of Excellence. These houses can be considered for establishing Center of Excellence in the cutting edge areas of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and material sciences in all the four provinces. This may be undertaken in collaboration with Central Asian republics and Russia, China as well as European countries. International experts can be invited from US, UK, France and Germany for the purpose. The venture seems to be frugal as the budget of the Governor Houses can be spent on it and some of the staff and security of the Governor House can also be utilized for the purpose. Side by side a museum and a library can also be established in the same venue having a luxury hotel on the analogy of the topnotch international universities. This can be undertaken as a project under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister and may be headed by the eminent academic leaders such as Dr. Atta ur Rehman or Dr. Ishrat Hussain for the upcoming five years.
- University: These houses can be used for establishment of full-fledged universities, as previously envisaged by the HEC to set up world-class engineering universities in partnership with Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Austria, Korea, China and Under the said initiative, partnership agreements had already been signed with foreign universities to start their engineering degree courses in Pakistan. Similarly, each university consented to have a technology park there and many foreign companies had expressed willingness to establish their R&D centres within the technology parks.
It is high time for the Imran Khan, to fulfill its commitment, made openly with the public, as expectations are getting higher and with Khan at the helm of affairs and the PTI government at the centre, there is no viable excuse, to eschew it. No matter, this would be an initiative of symbolic importance but will have a significant impact, both on the local as well as national political landscape of the country.