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US embassy's expansion plan challenged in Pakistan SC

April 12, 2012 16:21 IST

The United States embassy's plans to expand and construct an eight-storey building in Islamabad has been challenged in Pakistan's supreme court on Thursday by a lawyer who said the move would allow Americans to use the new structure for "spying" on the country's top leaders.

In a petition filed in the supreme court's registry branch in Lahore, Zafarullah Khan asked the court to order the capital development Authority to cancel approval for the expansion of the embassy in the diplomatic enclave.

The plan was challenged after media reports suggested that the US Embassy plans to construct an eight-storey building to accommodate over 6,000 personnel.

Pakistani authorities have reportedly allowed the US Embassy to go ahead with the expansion despite opposition from intelligence agencies, according to the reports.

Khan contended that the new building could be used by the US for spying.

He claimed the new building would pose a "security risk for other sensitive buildings in the Red Zone" at the heart of Islamabad. "If the US embassy is allowed to go ahead with the expansion, it would be bigger than even the White House," Khan claimed.

He said the expansion would turn the embassy into an "American base".

The Red Zone includes the Diplomatic Enclave, which houses dozens of embassies, the presidency, the prime minister's house, the supreme court and ministers' offices and residences.

The proposed expansion of the US Embassy also figured in the weekly news briefing at the Foreign Office and spokesman Abdul Basit said he had no information on opposition from the intelligence agencies.

He further said the concerned authorities were looking into the matter.

Media reports said the intelligence agencies had objected to the expansion of the US embassy, saying the eight-storey building could be used to monitor communications of several sensitive buildings, including the presidency and the prime minister's house.

The US Embassy spokesman has been quoted as saying that the Capital Development Authority has issued a no-objection certificate for the expansion. He said that no institution in Islamabad had opposed the plan.

Local media reports contended that the expansion is being seen by some quarters in Pakistan as a threat to national interests at a time when anti-American sentiments are at an all-time high.

In this regard, the media cited the US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad last year and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation air strike on Pakistani posts that killed 24 soldiers in November as incidents which had triggered widespread anger in Pakistan.
Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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