INTERNATIONAL DESK: The administration sealed off and closed a shopping and residential tower in the heart of Islamabad in an overnight raid on Tuesday following an altercation between Shehbaz Sharif and Sardar Tanveer Ilyas, the prime minister of Kashmir and a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) stalwart who owns the upscale business centre.
The Capital Development Authority (CDA) took the drastic measure after serving at least six notices on the management of Centaurus Mall between 2014 and 2022, warning against the suspected “non-conforming use of the building” in violation of relevant regulations.
The first notice was issued on March 7, 2014, the second on October 25, 2019, the third on December 28, 2020, and then on March 31, 2021. The penultimate notice was sent on October 11, 2021, and the sixth and final notice was issued on November 23, 2022 — all to no response.
Subsequently, in a notification issued on December 2, the regulator ordered to shut the mall on account of the failure to “remove building violations”.
The notification read: “Consequent upon the persistent non-compliance to remove building violations conveyed vide numerous 15 days notices served by Building Control Directorate […] and a show-cause notice […] the sealing order of the subject premises/property is hereby issued, in accordance with ’Islamabad Capital Territory Building Control Regulations, 2020 framed thereunder CDA Ordinance, 1960 and terms and conditions of allotment/sale agreement.”
A notice pasted outside the mall read: “The premises has been sealed on account of non-conforming use by order of director building control-city, CDA.”
Reports citing eyewitnesses said a joint team of CDA and Islamabad police raided the high-rise and expelled the administrative staff as well as security detail before shutting down the building.
Videos circulating on social media showed barbed wires placed outside the building, with a police mobile parked nearby.
The development came hours after the two prime ministers indulged in a verbal spat during a ceremony in Mangla town of Azad Kashmir where Sharif had arrived to address a ceremony.
In a brief video clip that went viral on social media, Sharif, while he was about to conclude his speech, was seen gesturing and asking Ilyas to retire to his seat. According to a witness, after wrapping up his speech, Sharif hurriedly left the venue without heeding to Ilyas, who tried his best to get the prime minister’s attention.
Meanwhile, an adviser to the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) said they fear the development is a case of “political victimisation”.
The tower is owned by Ilyas and opened its doors in 2013, years before the PTI leader assumed the top constitutional office in the picturesque region.
Former prime minister Imran Khan said the “sealing of Centaurus Mall by [the] PDM mafia in response to [Ilyas] censuring Shehbaz Sharif for not mentioning sacrifices of Kashmiris shows there is law of the jungle in [Pakistan] since last eight months.”
The move “sends negative signals to Kashmiris too. Question for our honourable judges: Are they not upholders of the law,” he asked.
Separately, Fawad Chaudhry, senior vice president of the opposition party, claimed the sealing of the tower was a consequence of Ilyas’ criticism of Sharif.
“First his car was stopped in Mangla [in Kashmir] and today, in Islamabad, his business Centaurus Mall was sealed. A more fascist and non-democratic government has not come to power in Pakistan’s history,” he said.
“If you are meting out this treatment to the AJK prime minister only for his criticism, what message are you giving to occupied Kashmir? What message are you giving to the investors in this country?”
Decrying the development, Ajmal Baloch, president of the umbrella union of businessmen, All Pakistan Anjuman-i-Tajiran (APAT), said the sealing of the mall “in the darkness of night was an act of revenge”.
A statement by the union quoting him said placing curbs on livelihoods for “political revenge” was not appropriate and that the sealing of the mall was clear evidence of the “act of revenge”.
“Livelihoods of several traders are associated with Centaurus Mall and its closure will deprive several employees of jobs,” he said, also mentioning the building also comprised residences.
He added: “Those who advised sealing the mall have damaged the reputation of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.”
Baloch vowed they would not let the traders’ community become a “victim of political revenge” at any cost. “The trader community of Islamabad is standing with the traders of Centaurus Mall,” he said.
He demanded the government immediately issues directives for de-sealing the building and warned of “blocking” Jinnah Avenue otherwise. (Pakistan Today)