Pakistan has put one of its diplomatic properties in the US capital — a building on the prestigious R Street NW — for sale, with officials insisting that neither the new nor the old embassies are up for sale.
The building housed the embassy’s defence section from the mid-1950s to early 2000s. “This building is in the market,” an official for the Pakistan Embassy confirmed to Dawn.
“We are following the proper procedure for sale.” The embassy advertised the proposed sale in newspapers and has received several bids. “It is still in the market, no final decision yet,” the official added.
The embassy said they were consulting an appraiser to assess what’s better for them: to sell the building as it is, or to do so after renovation.
“We are in no rush, and we will not conclude a deal that does not benefit Pakistan,” the embassy official said.
Posts on social media displayed two buildings: both the present and the old embassies. But the embassy said none of these two buildings were for sale.
The present embassy is in a new building constructed in the early 2000s while the old embassy was in the heart of the town, on Massachusetts Avenue, close to the Indian embassy.
While no one ever suggested selling the new embassy, reports about the possible sale of the old embassy and the R Street building have been circulating for some time.
The embassy, however, insists that neither the new nor the old embassies were up for sale. According to some estimates, the embassy spent close to seven million dollars in renovating the old building and the nearby official residence of the ambassador.
The amount spent on the renovation, however, surprised many, with some demanding a probe to determine why it cost so much.
The R Street building, however, has never been renovated and a visit to the site showed that it was in dilapidated conditions. Other residents of the area confirmed that they had complained to the local authorities about the state of the building which, they said, was now “a security hazard.”
The residents want the building to be renovated or razed to ground.
The R Street building was purchased by Ambassador Syed Amjad Ali between 1953 and 1956. The old embassy was purchased by Pakistan’s first ambassador to the US, M.A.H. Ispahani. Both buildings have remained unoccupied for almost 20 years now.
Another embassy official, when asked for comments, said the government has no plans to sell the old embassy as they still wanted to set up a cultural centre here.
A former Pakistani ambassador told Dawn that two ambassadors Jalil Abbas Jilani and Sherry Rehman had previously come close to selling the old embassy building but the government withdrew after a media uproar.
“Personally, I am in favour of selling all unoccupied buildings,” the former ambassador said. “We have already wasted a lot of money in retaining these buildings for so long.”
However, he made it clear that since they are diplomatic properties, Pakistan does not have to pay property tax for these buildings. “But a commercial buyer will have to pay taxes if he buys the property,” he said. “That’s why we do not have too many offers. Further delay will make it even more difficult to sell the buildings.”
Yet another embassy official rejected the suggestion that the embassy was unable to pay its diplomatic and other staff. “Every embassy employee — diplomatic or non-diplomatic — is paid on time,” the official said.