By Humayoon Ghaznavi
Ghazni province – Local strongmen have seized 150,000 acres of state-owned lands in Ghazni Province during the last eight years, local authorities say, and the government is worried that this land mafia are now poised to get their hands on the remaining 650,000 acres of state lands, which they then use for private enterprise.
Local authorities in Ghazni say that land titles and cadastre registries indicate that formerly government-controlled land has been seized in Ghazni center and alin Dehyak, Andar, Zenakhan, Rashidan, Khwaja-Omri, Jaghato, Khogiani, Waghez, Qarabaq, Ab-band, Moghor, Gilan, Nawa, Jaghori, Malistan and Ajrestan provincial districts.
Sultan Husain Abbasyar, Ghazni’s director of agriculture, said many areas in the southeastern Afghan province are under Taliban control, which makes it impossible for land authority officers to visit.
Ghazni’s judicial director, Abdul-Razaq Azizi, confirms that local strongmen plunder land at will, but says he can’t disclose their names to media because he fears the land mafia. Azizi said most land grabbers have important positions within the Ghazni local government, and he would lose his position or maybe even get killed if he mentions any names.
Who are these plunderers and strongmen?
Provincial Governor Musa Khan Akbarzada Ghazni was willing to give some names. He said the land grabbers are widely recognized people backed by high-ranking officials in Kabul.
“These are not a particular or small group of people,” the governor said. “These are land mafia and they are active in every government body and every village.”
Akbarzada said most of these people are ex-jihadi fighters. He listed Khalil Hotak as an example of a commander affiliated with the Jamiat-e-Islami political party. Hotak is accused of seizing 3,000 acres of government land in suburban Ghazni city adjacent to the Kabul-Ghazni main road and building a small town called Mahmood Kabir.
A 600-square meter plot in Mahmood Kabir can sell for as much as $28,000. An IWPR reporter saw more than 300 concrete homes and stores in the new town, protected by 40 armed guards working for Commander Hotak.
Akbarzada implicated a number of other local officials and commanders involved in the land grabs, including Dehyak district governor Fazl Ahmad and former Ghazni senators Maulana Abdulrahman Hakimi and Shah Mohammad.
The Ghazni governor implicated Sayed Shir-Aqa, a member of the Ghazni provincial council, who he accused of appropriating and selling off a whole area called Keyvan Plain in Dehyak district.
The governor also claims that Qari Baba, an ex-militia commander who served as provincial governor from 2002 until 2006, when the Taliban killed him, illegally claimed hundreds of acres of lands in Andar district. The Ghazni governor said former deputy provincial governor Mohammad Kazim Allahyar sold thousands of acres of public land to people during his six-year term.
The governor accused current Ghazni parliamentarian Ali Akbar Ghasemi, and former parliamentarian Khiyal Mohammad Hussaini of grabbing thousands of acres of state-owned land. According to the governor, Ghasemi has taken 1,000 acres of previously empty public land in the Naw-Abad and Qala Shada areas near Ghazni city and sold it all in plots costing between $20,700 and $61,000.
“Ghasemi has sold all these plots to people of his own ethnic group from Nawur district,” the governor said.
None of those named by the governor would be interviewed to respond to the allegations.
How have these lands been grabbed?
IWPR investigations indicate that public lands in Ghazni have been stolen using three different methods.
The first method is forcible seizure of plains and hilly areas with backing by armed government forces. Most of the commanders and strongmen occupying these lands have constructed private towns in which they then sell lots for $2,000-$28,000.
The second method of seizure is by groups of villagers who attempt to claim adjacent empty lands as a collective. Muhajerin (Migrators) Town, located west of Ghazni city, is one example. The Ministry of Emigration allocated the town to Afghan emigrants returning from Pakistan and Iran, but undeveloped areas north of town were taken by Sanjedak villagers, who argue the land is closer to their town and won’t allow the government to distribute lands in the disputed area to the emigrants.
The third method involves entire communities trying to grab public properties. There is a vast plain in southern Abband district adjoining Badin-kheil village where residents of two communities, Alizai and Badinkheil, claim ownership of thousands of acres. Claims and counter-claims between the two communities resulted in a violent clash on November 12 that left three people dead and four wounded. Eyewitnesses told an IWPR reporter that fighters used machine guns, RPG rocket launchers and mortars during the fighting.
Lack of control over public property by local authorities in Ghazni province has emboldened the appropriation of undeveloped land.
Located in northern Qarabaq district, a plain called Vatir contains thousands acres of land. On the edges of this plain, there are big old mud-construction houses accommodating 10 to 20 households. Every family living in these fortified houses have encroached on the plain and built mud and brick walls around 10 to 20 acres they think they can grab. Within these walls, the families have dug wells as deep as 80-100 meters and planted grape and apricot orchards.
Taza-gul, one of these residents, said he spent $5,000 on a wall around five acres that he is now cultivating.
Reactions of Local Authorities
The active presence of Taliban insurgents in Ghazni province, and their frequent attacks on NATO supply routes along the Kabul-Ghazni road, has greatly exacerbated the situation. Local authorities are unable to enforce laws or even visit some districts.
Governor Akbarzada told an IWPR reporter that a property dealer based in the third district of Ghazni city, had over the last four years sold 50 acres of public land along city roads using forged documents. Arrested this past June, the dealer, Miyaz Mohammad Amir, revealed to police that he had sold more than 3,000 acres of public lands in several districts of Ghazni, also using forged documents. The primary court of Ghazni found him guilty of forgery and illegal sale of public land and sentenced him to four years in prison.
In late October, the Ghazni local government managed to regain control of 50 acres located eight kilometers east of the city near Jaws village. Villagers claimed the hilly area in October 2010, but bulldozers knocked down hundreds of their new homes and shops, and the Ghazni Municipality is planning to construct a new town named Ali Baba.
Governor Akbarzada said the local government has established a special commission aimed at preventing any more seizures of public land, reclaiming public land that has been seized, and referring land grabbers to the judicial system.
Members of the commission include the provincial governor, the mayor, the director of agriculture, the director of information and culture, the director of judiciary, the deputy head of the provincial council, the director of urban development and the director of public works.
According to the governor, the commission has regained control of 200 acres within Ghazni city and identified 12 members of the land mafia. The governor wouldn’t name these 12 suspects, saying they are powerful, armed peopled with connections to both jihadi leaders and the central government in Kabul. Abbasyar, Ghazni’s director of agriculture, said these 12 persons were arrested, but bailed out immediately.
An IWPR reporter examined documents at the Ghazni judiciary and found that Abdul-Hamid Wafa, the former provincial director of the emigrants’ office, was on this list of alleged land grabbers. The documents revealed that Wafa was accused of occupying and selling 50 public plots in Muhajereen Town in the center of Ghazni city. He was found guilty by the primary court of Ghazni and sentenced to three years in prison. But the reporter found out that Wafa was released in September. He is not working in the government now and stays at home.
Abbasyar, the provincial director of agriculture, says that although 150,000 acres out of a total of 800,000 public acres have been taken illegally, he is optimistic that accurate land titles and improved will eventually allow the local government to reclaim ownership of the public lands.
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