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Land grabbing: A lucrative black business

By Mansoor Faizy-KABUL: In the last ten years, land disputes have become a permanent feature of Afghanistan’s landscape and also a primary driver of conflict in the country. Land grabbing has reached its peak in the past 10-year, mainly after the collapse of Taliban regime. Land mafia groups have increased their activities as soon as land value has increased.

Briefing newsmen late this month (February), the chief of Afghanistan Freedom House (AFH), Shah Hussain Murtazawi, said that 1.95 million acres of state lands have been grabbed by powerful individuals in 18 provinces in the past 10 years.

He said that the AFH launched the search over trust-worthy documents related to the Independent Land Authority, Special Parliamentary Commission, Attorney General’s Office, Kabul Municipality, Ministry of Urban Development, Independent Directorate of Local Governance, Special Presidential Report and the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption. Murtazawi pointed out that figures belong to the Independent Land Authority and the Special Parliamentary Commission show that around 1.2 million acres of state lands were usurped in 34 provinces.

Refugee and Repatriation Director, Ghulam Haidar Faqiri, said that land plots measuring 1,500 acres have been usurped by powerful individuals in a township in the capital of eastern Nangarhar province. He added that nearly 3,000 plots had been grabbed in the Chamtali Township area.

The township is situated on the outskirts of Jalalabad near Sara Rud district and it was constructed for the families who had returned back to Afghanistan. The residential scheme consists of 8,000 plots. Only 5,000 plots have been distributed to returning families. It is worth mentioning that the remaining plots have been occupied and sold by powerful wings.

“Most plots in the Chamtali Township grabbed and sold illegally,” the governor’s spokesman, Attaullah Khogyani said, assuring that steps had been put in place to recapture the usurped plots soon. Such incident would not take place in the future, he assured.

According to the report, if one meter square of land costs 2.5 dollar, 1,297,000 acres of lands worth 6.4 billion dollars and 4.5 million acres of lands worth over 22 billion dollars.

Land grabbing now has become an established practice in the country and those who have power would not hesitate in usurping lands and it might be due to its value. It is a lucrative business now. The grabbed lands defiantly bring millions of dollars to them. Those who are engaged in this business might enjoy immense support from powerful individuals in the government, because common people would not dare to do so.

Ghazni police chief, Brig. Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil, is seemed to be the first official who warned and vowed to protect state-owned lands, which is increasingly targeted by land grabbers.

Warning land grabbers of strict action, Brig. Gen. Aminullah Amarkhil told newsmen that no one would dare to usurp government lands in the future as the police was ready to send behind bars the usurpers. He confirmed that thousands acres of land had been grabbed in the province. As part of his efforts against land mafia, he said that he would not let such crime to take place in the future.

Land grabbing is not the work of common people, he said, adding that mafia groups and powerful individuals had been involved in this money-spinning business.

“At least 150,000 acres of land had been illegally occupied by strongmen and mafia groups in the province,” a provincial council member, Abdul Jamay Jamay told media.

A tribal elder in Ghazni city, Khalilullah Hottak, said that besides Ghazni City, public land had been usurped in Jaghori, Malistan, Nahur, Gilan, Maqur, Andar and Deh Yak districts. He said private lands of nomads had also been usurped.

The National Unity Government should come up to the fore with a clear mechanism aimed at preventing land mafia for further grabbing state-owned lands. If the government failed to prevent mafia groups from usurping the lands, it would show weakness of the government. It is an internal issue, if the government could not deal with it, so how it would be rational to think that the government would protect us from external threats. It is the responsibility of the government to assure people that land mafia groups would soon face the music and all grabbed lands would be retaken from the usurpers.

If the government turned a blind eye to the issue, it would not be too far to witness that all public lands are usurped by the land mafia. Immediate action is the need of the hour.  There is a proverb as saying, “If you let something intrusive enter your life, your life will become difficult”. The government must not let this intrusive to further gain root in our life, and spare no efforts to end the established practice of land grabbing from the country forever.

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