The unresolved case of Janjua Town

Zahid Gishkori May 17, 2010

ISLAMABAD: Military officials may have been involved in the purchase and sale of land in the disputed Janjua Town, it is alleged.

Around 320 families were displaced on December 12, 1998 when the Pakistan Army bulldozed their houses in Janjua Town, saying that the town had been built without obtaining permission from the army. Now, in 2010, after having appealed to former president General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf and the Supreme Court, the affectees are still waiting for someone to heed their call for justice. Major (Retired) Mukhtar Ahmad Awan, spokesperson for the affectees, alleged that senior officials were involved in the sale and purchase of plots in this town.

The town’s management, Awan said, had gifted a number of plots to officers serving in the Pakistan Army, allegedly in return for obtaining permission for constructing houses on the land. “The then Chief of Army Staff’s wife received five kanals of land in 1991 and then sold it out to Lt Col (Retired) Zafarullah Khan Niazi in 1998,” he said.

He further alleged that Col (Retired) Abdul Bari, former principal secretary to the COAS, and his wife sold 15 kanals of land to Lt Col Niazi, earning millions in the process, Awan says. Lt Col (R) Niazi alleged: “The (then COAS) compelled me to purchase both the plots and to finalise a deal pertaining to a total of 20 kanals of land. He also harassed me and asked me to purchase more land adjacent to the one owned by his wife’s relatives.”

Army Spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas, when contacted, said he was not in a position to comment on the issue before consulting the officials concerned. He is still to make an official statement, more than three weeks after he was first contacted. “Our cases have been pending in the [Rawalpindi District] court for the past 12 years. There has not been a single hearing yet,” a former resident of Janjua Town told The Express Tribune. “We sent letters to [former] president Musharraf and also appealed to the Supreme Court.

But nothing happened,” he added. The army responded to the letter they had sent to the former president by saying the army had investigated the matter and found the residents to be occupying the land illegally. The letter further asks the residents to refrain from filing any more baseless appeals to the army. The land is now under the control of the army with 10-12 guards protecting it round-the-clock. The 700-kanal Janjua Town was founded in 1972 by the late Lt Col Altaf Hussain Janjua. Later, in 1985, the army filed a case with the Rawalpindi District Court against what it claimed to be the illegal occupation of the land.

The court was still mulling over the case when, in 1998, the Military Estate Office demolished the entire town. Lt Col Irfan-e-Haider had led the operation. “Military Estate Officer and district local administrator Rawalpindi, knowing [the] sub judice [nature of the land] illegally bulldozed my house on 12 December, 1998,” said Zuhra Begum in an appeal sent to the Chief Justice in April, 1999. She lost both her house and husband on December 12– her husband, unable to bear the loss of his house, suffered a fatal heart attack.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 18th, 2010.