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Is US embassy building a hotel, SC asks govt

Is US embassy building a hotel, SC asks govt

ISLAMABAD: A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court on Monday asked the government to verify the allegation by a private petitioner that a hotel was being constructed in the US embassy compound.

Petitioner Zafarullah Khan, a lawyer and chairman of Watan Party, had approached the apex court in 2009 with the request to stop the government from providing additional land for the expansion of the embassy, which already occupied 38 acres in the diplomatic enclave, and bar the embassy from renting property in Islamabad.

His fear was that the expansion of the U.S. mission might pose dangers to national security.

At the last hearing on September 21, 2015, the bench, headed by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, had asked the ministries of defence, foreign affairs and interior and the Capital Development Authority to submit their replies on the petitioner’s claim that additional 18 acres of land have been granted by the government for the expansion of the embassy.

But the submissions made by Deputy Attorney General Sohail Mahmood on Monday that the petitioner’s entire case rested on newspaper reports did not weigh with the bench which called for a concise statement from the government acknowledging or denying the construction of a hotel in the embassy grounds.

A report submitted on behalf of the foreign office stated that an NOC - ‘no objection certificate – issued by the CDA to the embassy on Jan 10, 2012 was the only one and no revised NOC or approval was ever granted to the embassy subsequently. The foreign office requested the court to remove it as a party in the matter.

DAG Mahmood, referring to interior ministry’s reply, stated that the embassy’s expansion was “a matter of bilateral interest and therefore cannot be dictated by hearsay.” The ministry rejected as “flimsy and sketchy” the petitioner’s allegation that Pakistan had been turned into a proxy of big powers.

“In the current era, there is hardly any nation or State which can stay aloof from the evolving situation in their respective region or area,” it said, adding that “being a responsible state, Pakistan is surely capable of steering things as per its national interest.” Its security agencies have the mandate of vetting cases in hand and give NOC or otherwise from security angle for the areas or building hired or taken on lease by foreign missions, foreigners, international non-governmental organizations, multinational companies etc, it said.

All ministries dealing with the foreign entities are obliged to implement the directions of the government in letter and spirit, said the interior ministry, requesting the court to dismiss the petition of Zafarullah Khan “since it is not maintainable.”

Petitioner Khan had invited the attention of the Supreme Court towards Article 11 of the Vienna Convention which states that in the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal, having regard to circumstances and conditions in the receiving State and to the needs of the particular mission.

The Convention also asks for the grant of similar size of land for the purpose of building embassy as was allowed by the receiving State in its own country, he said, arguing that 38 acres were enough for the purposes of the U.S. embassy and more land should not be provided to it “that too for the construction of allegedly military-related purposes”.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2016

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