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A Disappointing Afghanistan Fact: The Value Of Land Grabs Peaks Seven Billion Dollars – OpEd

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Insurgency is a dilemma that has been linked to the name of Afghanistan for years with the drug mafia, corruption and now, unfortunately, land-grabs — finding its way rapidly to become the fourth most challenging encounter for the people and government of Afghanistan.

Statistics previously published to the media by the Afghan government authorities show that more than 320,000 hectares of residential and productive agricultural government lands have been grabbed by 18,822 individuals, which include small-land grabbers who have sheltered themselves, to the mass grabbers who developed it, distributed and resold to their followers.

Conservatively projected, the approximate value of the illegally grabbed lands is $5.4 billion dollars. 1 Adding to that, these public assets — properly managed by the Afghan government since the fall of the Taliban regime in the year 2001 — with two percent return on its market value, could have generated an additional estimated $1.6 billion dollars, 2  totaling the revenue lost by the Afghan government to $7 billion dollars.

This $7 billion dollars is equal to 36 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP and 130 percent of the Afghanistan national budget for the fiscal year 2018.

The average size of a family in Afghanistan is seven people with its total population reported at 34 million in 2016. This implies that each Afghan family has lost 659 square meters of land 3, developed and distributed lawfully by the Afghan government. Land that could have helped the Afghan government to generate sustainable revenue for families to live a better life on a decent piece of land in Afghanistan.

The average value of the government asset lost to these high-power and high-ranking individuals is valued at approximately $374,000 dollars4. This average value lost from mass land grabbers could serve as the basis for a solid projection that this very lucrative illegal business may have also produced between two to three hundred millionaires in Afghanistan. This is well in contrast with the current 54 percent of the proportion of Afghan population living below the national poverty line.

According to the World Bank, Afghanistan is ranked 186 in registering property, and less than 34 percent of Afghanistan’s land has been surveyed and legally registered, leaving the rest vulnerable to land-grabs. Simultaneously, the lack of land ownership protection in Afghanistan has not only deprived owners of investments on their properties, but has also deprived the owners to benefit from the return potential of their property in a market economy system.

Proving to be a true owner of land has also become a very complicated task for the government of Afghanistan. There are ongoing conflicts and legal cases between and against landlords and the government, the government and land grabbers, the people and the government, the people and the grabbers; and even between the two government entities.

The land problem is one of many current cases that have been present in the courts of Afghanistan. The greed for land and property in Afghanistan is an old tradition, but it appears that it has grown particularly faster among the people with power.

Land grabbing now has become an established practice in the country and those who have power do not hesitate to grab lands and it might be due to its value. It seems that those who are engaged in this illegal business might enjoy immense support from the powerful individuals because common people would not dare to do so.

The grabbing of the residential, commercial, agriculture and pasture lands and forests, most of which are state-owned property, has mostly happened in the past 17 years, both in urban and rural areas in Afghanistan. The illegal holding and selling of government property has become a symbol of power, rather than of a crime among the grabbers.

The presence of continuous civil wars along with the drug mafia and administrative corruption, has made easier than before to grab lands in Afghanistan. There are cases in which low-power individuals and officials have asked for the help of the powerful against a share of the land to be grabbed.

The forging of documents for the grabbing of state property and its formalization in the country’s judiciary, the creation of settlements and the construction of high-rise buildings in different areas by the powerful, has added another node on this scourge. Statistics released by the government’s House Control Commission indicate that there are now 350 settlements around the country, of which 94 are illegitimate.

The practice of land grabbing is often accompanied by a series of other unlawful acts of the same kind, such as faking deeds and the registration of land ownership through corrupt practices and forming armed gang groups to threaten citizens and law enforcing authorities to not approach and bring them to the justice.

The combination of unlawful acts with the grabbing of the lands is a complicated matter of ownership, especially when the grabbed land is divided into smaller pieces and distributed to various assigned followers. This has led to the massive desperation of public assets by depriving others who are desperately willing to lawfully own land in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Constitution prohibits any discrimination and privilege among Afghan nationals and emphasizes the principle that everyone has the same rights and responsibilities against the law. Sharia laws and civil code in Afghanistan guarantee the comprehensive human rights of land ownership.

During the previous administrations, this process was considered merely with the periodic disclosure of the names of the completed individuals, but there was no news of the extradition of the lands grabbed by these individuals or the trial of these people.

However, there is currently better political will in the National Unity Government to protect and extradite these lands. Since President Ashraf Ghani took office in mid-2014, he not only acknowledges the fact that land grabbing has reached a new peak as lands worth billions of dollars grabbed by the powerful and land mafia groups in Afghanistan, but also his administration successfully managed to prevent 36 thousands hectares of state-owned land from the grabbers.

Minister of Justice Abdul Basir Anwar, during his press conference at the Afghan Government Media and Information Center (GMIC), said that “During the three years of the National Unity Government, we have prevented powerful individuals from grabbing of 36 thousands hectares of state-owned land which is worth over $609 million dollars.”

Policy Recommendation

The land grabbing should by no means be encouraged or the grabbed land be registered. However, those lands that have been grabbed and then developed, sold, or then resold to the others, whom themselves built for their own shelter, requires a realistic and legally justifying actions from the government of Afghanistan. For instance, one complexity within the existing land legal framework divides the land into various sorting systems that are often non-polluting. In particular, the definition of a state land that has changed in different regimes. Proper legal and administrative landing system for a country should be simple and define the private and public land in a clear manner.

Conclusion

As the upcoming Afghan parliamentary and presidential elections are on the horizon, it would be highly important for the upcoming administrations to maintain a strong political will that has accompanied with the stronger political actions too. Prioritizing the issue of land-grabs as the fourth most challenge for the development of Afghanistan, the Afghan government and its international development partners, along with the Afghanistan civil society, should work together to not only address this as the human rights violation but also consider the fact that it could contribute to Afghanistan’s budget sustainability as one of the major sources of revenue for the government of Afghanistan. Although considering the current concern- trends in security, political, and social sectors in Afghanistan, the expectation of a very positive performance that can result in satisfaction for the people of Afghanistan may look in vain.

References:
1. Ariana News, 17 December 2017,(accessed 7 June 2018): [Farsi)  https://ariananews.af/%DB%8C%DA%A9-%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%84%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%88-%D8%B4%D8%B4-%D8%B5%D8%AF-%D9%87%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AC%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A8-%D8%B2%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%AF/?lang=fa
2. Ariana News, 15 March 2017, 15 March 2017,(accessed 7 June 2018): [Farsi]  https://ariananews.af/%DB%8C%DA%A9-%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%84%DB%8C%D9%88%D9%86-%D9%88-%D8%B4%D8%B4-%D8%B5%D8%AF-%D9%87%D8%B2%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%AC%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A8-%D8%B2%D9%85%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%AF%D9%88%D9%84%D8%AA%DB%8C-%D8%AF/?lang=fa
3. Ariana News, 28 Aug 2016, (accessed 15 Jul 2018): https://ariananews.af/ghani-says-land-grabbing-reaches-new-peak-in-afghanistan/
4. Land Link Organization, June 2018 (accessed online on 12 June 2018), PDF, Page 17 https://www.land-links.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/USAID_Land_Tenure_Afghanistan_Profile.pdf
5. World Bank Group, Afghanistan Country Profile, GDP, 16 June 2018 ( accessed 16 June 2018): https://data.worldbank.org/country/afghanistan
6. Ministry of Finance of Afghanistan (MOF), Afghanistan National Budget Document June 11 2018 (accessed online on 11 June 2018): http://mof.gov.af/Content/files/123.pdf
7. Afghanistan Central Statistics Office, 13 June 2018 (accessed 13 June 2018), PDF, Page 11: http://cso.gov.af/Content/files/ALCS/POPULATION%20AND%20HOUSEHOLDS.pdf
8.Afghanistan Central Statistics Office, Afghanistan Living Condition Survey 2016/17, 13 June 2018 (accessed 13 June 2018), PDF, Page 11: http://cso.gov.af/Content/files/ALCS/POPULATION%20AND%20HOUSEHOLDS.pdf
9. Afghanistan Central Statistics Office, Afghanistan Living Condition Survey 2016/17, 13 June 2018 (accessed 13 June 2018), PDF, Page 7: http://cso.gov.af/Content/files/ALCS/ALCS%20-%202016-17%20Analysis%20report%20-%20pre-print%20for%20web_rev.pdf
10. World Bank Group, Afghanistan Country Profile, Population, 16 June 2018 ( accessed 16 June 2018): https://data.worldbank.org/country/afghanistan
11. World Bank Group, Doing Business, Registering Property, 7 July 2018 (accessed 7 July 2018): http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/afghanistan
12. Ariananews, 28 Aug 2016, (accessed 15 Jul 2018): https://ariananews.af/ghani-says-land-grabbing-reaches-new-peak-in-afghanistan/
13. BBC Persian, 28 Aug 2013, (accessed 15 Jul 2018): http://www.bbc.com/persian/afghanistan/2013/10/131026_k03_afg_land_grapping_concer_concern
14. BBC Persian, 28 Aug 2013, (accessed 15 Jul 2018): http://www.bbc.com/persian/afghanistan/2013/10/131026_k03_afg_land_grapping_concer_concern
15. Bakhtar News Agency, No 2017, (accessed 20 July 2018), http://www.bakhtarnews.com.af/eng/politics/item/30713-land-grabbing-still-a-major-challenge-minister.html?tmpl=component&print=1

Endnotes:
1. The Afghan government reported that they have recovered 36 thousands hectares of state-owned land with an average value of $16917. The 320,000X16917= $5.4 billion dollars.
2. A two percent return on $5.4 billion dollars for 15 years generates additional $1.6 billion dollars
3. A= 4.85 million families. B = 3, 200, 000, 000 m2. B/A = 659 m2
4. $7 billion dollars divided to 18822 grabbers = S374,000

*Shokrullah Amiri


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