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Officials Report Large-scale Land Grab In Eastern Afghan Province

FILE: Farmers work on a wheat field in Nangarhar Province.
FILE: Farmers work on a wheat field in Nangarhar Province.

JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- Officials in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar say strongmen and community leaders have grabbed nearly two-thirds of all government land in the region.

A senior bureaucrat at the Afghan Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock Ministry says tribal leaders, communities, and strongmen have illegally seized around 110,000 hectares of government property across all 22 districts on Nangarhar.

“We have lists that contain 1106 names of individuals who can be considered the leading figures involved in [illegally seizing government land],” Sadiq Daulatzi, the head of the ministry’s land management department, told Radio Mashaal. “These include tribal leaders, strongmen, and other powerful people.”

Danishyar, a resident of Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad, says poor people in the region could not even dare to occupy state land.

“Only people with power can grab land, and they do it through official means,” he said. “All this is happening and no one is trying to stop it.”

Pervez, another resident who also uses one name, says he thinks provincial authorities are culpable in the land grab.

“All this talk about ending land-grabbing is just for show,” he said.

Strategically located, the vast province of Nangarhar is linked to Pakistan through the historic Khyber Pass to the east. The pass also serves as a key trade artery for landlocked Afghanistan. Some regions amid the arid and forested Nangarhar valleys have access to regular irrigation. Thus commerce and agriculture make land a pervious resource in the region.

Local say that some of the land-gabbers have even developed housing on the seized lands to multiply their profits.

Provincial Governor Gulab Mangal is keen to reclaim government land. But he says it is not easy to solve land-grabbing cases spread over four decades when a weak or nonexistent government lost its properties.

“We would like to gradually reclaim our properties from individuals,” he said. “It is very difficult to undo in a couple months what took place over four decades [during various cycles of war]. But we are serious about addressing this issue.”

Research shows that while population increases and returning refugees have increased land value and demand, disputes over property ownership are a primary driver of conflict in Afghanistan.

Some land disputes turn into family and communal issues that fester into violent feuds because of a weak judicial system and the failure of informal conflict resolution systems.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Baz Muhammad Abid’s reporting from Nangarhar, Afghanistan.