By Haider Abbasi
Hidden behind the ministries and presidency in one of the most beautiful areas in Islamabad, is Pakistan’s Prime Minister House. The official residence of the country’s head has magnificent views from all corners. From this location, you can observe the majestic Margalla Hills and enjoy an unparalleled view of the Parliament building and the Islamabad skyline.
The PM House is an institution symbolizing the seat and residence of the most powerful person in the country. It has been custom built for the PM’s needs, whether it be a meeting with his cabinet, or hosting a foreign delegation. It has sprawling grounds, 3 helipads and all the resources a head of government requires. In essence, the PM could stay in the PM House all day and conduct his day to day affairs.
However, the building has been criticized for being a burden on the taxpayer. Critics rightly point out that this is an ugly symbol of wealth in a country where most people struggle to afford a simple house. Moreso, the previous inhabitants of the House have been spoken of disparagingly, called “kings and queens” living in a palace.
The new government plans to turn this location into a university. PM Khan has refused to live in the PM House, calling it “palatial”, claiming over 500 people are required to run the PM House and decrying past leaders for their extravagance. He instead lives in the Military Secretary’s house, which is also located with the PM House grounds.
This is, however, mostly populist rhetoric as proven by PM Khan’s own recent actions. He travels weekly to his personal residence in Bani Gala via helicopter using the helipad conveniently located within the PM House. As far as the 500+ PM House employees go, these include the PM’s personal staff, the PM’s security, all government officials working under the PM, maintenance staff, workers assigned to the PM’s staff, numbers which add up and give a false idea of why such a large staff is employed.
However, the populist rhetoric is not without merit. It is true that some of the expenses at the PM House are extravagant. The large number of cars bought for the PM’s safety, for example, are a needless expense because of the excess. Concessions need to be made, and expenses cut, but this can be done without sullying the names of the previous occupants.
The PM House should continue to serve as the residence and office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. As a historical building it should instead be opened for weekly tours for the public, similar to tours of the White House in the US. This will allow the public to experience the history of the institution, and the building can continue to serve the PM, which it was purpose built for.
The PM Office, a separate building located next to the Supreme Court is often confused with the PM House. This building is unquestionably then surplus to requirement. This is the palace-like building built by Benazir Bhutto, that perhaps PM Khan had earlier confused for the PM House. It houses an additional office for the Prime Minister, his advisors and staff, and can be used for meetings similar to then PM House. This building should be considered for some other purpose, perhaps an institute of some kind or university.
Because surely, future Prime Ministers will need a secure place to live, and what is the point of changing a building like the PM House which is already designed for the PM’s needs.
The opinions in this article are of the writer only and do not represent the views of The Weekly Pakistan