Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday lauded the Punjab chief minister for “demolishing the palaces of qabza groups (land grabbers)” and said that going after “big thieves” indicated real change.
The premier was speaking at a ceremony in Sahiwal, days after the Punjab government demolished ‘Khokhar Palace’ which belonged to the family of PML-N MNA Afzal Khokar and MPA Saiful Malook Khokhar.
The prime minister, without naming the Khokhar family or PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, accused the previous government of protecting “Lahore’s biggest qabza group”.
“I saw a palace falling,” said the prime minister. “Lahore’s biggest qabza group which was being backed by the previous prime minister and his family. Land was being grabbed in their presence [in fact] they protected them. So who was protecting the qabza group? The prime minister and his government.”
PM Imran said that lower-income people and overseas Pakistanis who wished to buy property were helpless before land grabbing mafias.
“People ask what is tabdeeli (change)? This is tabdeeli when big thieves are caught,” he declared. He further said that a country cannot progress until there is rule of law.
He said that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who was also attending the ceremony, was called as a “shy chief minister” who does not spend billions in advertisements and did not roam around in convoys comprising 40 cars.
“But this is the real work,” the premier said, referring to the provincial government’s efforts to curb land grabbing and apprehend those guilty of the crime.
During the ceremony, the premier also announced healthcare coverage of up to Rs750,000 for all Sahiwal residents and promised that by December of this year, all of Punjab will be provided with free healthcare.
He also talked about the government’s plantation drive, saying that his administration was going for “reforestation” on lands that were captured by land grabbers who had cut down trees.
Punjab Chief Minister Buzdar also addressed the event and hailed Sahiwal as “an important region of Punjab which is quickly coming to the front in terms of administrative and business opportunities.”
He also announced development packages and infrastructure projects worth Rs200 billion regarding education, health, road development, sports complex, parks, an underpass, water supply and sewerage.
Demolition of Khokhar properties
The Punjab government had on Sunday demolished several structures around houses of the Khokhar brothers and their relatives near Johar Town in a day-long operation. The development came more than a month after the Federal Investigation Agency opened an investigation against the Khokhar brothers for their alleged involvement in money laundering and land grabbing.
The structures razed during the operation included houses of Akmal Khokhar and Tahir Javaid (close relatives of Afzal and Saiful Malook), a market, back walls and shanties temporarily made by the workers.
According to city district administration, the team retrieved 38 kanal land from the illegal possession of the Khokhar brothers.
“The total worth of the land is about Rs1.25bn,” a spokesman for the administration said in a press release. He accused the Khokhar brothers of grabbing the land through forgery.
“Before launching operation, notices were also issued to Khokhar brothers,” he explained, adding that various structures and shops were demolished during the operation that was supervised by the SSP (operations) and additional district collector revenue (ADCR).
“The retrieved land has been handed over to the Punjab government,” he said.
The operation was widely condemned by the PML-N as an extreme action to punish supporters of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement. The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday restrained the district government from further demolishing Khokhar Palace among other properties and directed both sides to approach the civil court for the resolution of the dispute.
“I have come to know that this person whose name is Imran Khan, personally sat down and was monitoring the operation,” party vice-president Maryam Nawaz had alleged, saying this measure had come after attempts to pressurise the Khokhar brothers and holders of political office in the PML-N.