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On Landgrabs, Afghans Say Name Names, But Make Them The Right Ones

Many Afghans accuse people connected to the government of stealing land.
A major report revealing the names of thousands of alleged land-grabbers in Afghanistan has been released after pressure from lawmakers.

Afghans have long complained about the widespread practice of land-grabbing by well-connected and powerful figures in Kabul and around the country.

To address the issue a special body, the Commission on Monitoring Government Acts of the Afghan Parliament, was set up nearly eight months ago to investigate the seizure of state-owned and private land.

But despite the passing of a draft law by the lower house of parliament in September to prevent land-grabbing, some Afghan lawmakers have been frustrated by what they see as the commission's inaction, in particular in regard to naming names.

Speaking on the phone, Zalmai Mojaddedi, the head of the Commission on Monitoring Government Acts of the Afghan Parliament, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on October 21 that the commission had been "forced to release the report."

"Certainly we did this under pressure. Actually, doing so had its problems from a legal point of view. Unless the court has sentenced someone, we cannot give them to the media and cannot say that they have been sentenced,” Mojaddedi said.

Mojaddedi said that his oversight commission has compiled a 2,500-page report that lists more than 15,000 individuals allegedly involved in grabbing over 500,000 hectares of land, worth $7 billion, mainly in the Helmand, Balkh, Kabul, and Herat provinces.

The report singles out 19 people as the main offenders who are alleged to be involved in taking more than 4,000 hectares of land around Afghanistan. Most of these names are lesser-known individuals, although one of them is Said Ishaq Gilani, a former lawmaker.

Gilani was registered to run in the April 2014 presidential election until he was among 16 candidates disqualified by the Independent Election Commission on October 22. The election commission has said that the candidates were disqualified because of improper documents and because they could not collect the required 100,000 signatures from supporters.

The identity -- and exposure -- of the land-grabbers is a highly charged political issue in Afghanistan, with politicians regularly trading accusations.

According to, commission head Mojaddedi recently accused the party of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a former warlord, of being involved in landgrabs -- claims that were rejected by his party.

"There are some circles that have plotted and started conspiracies against Jumbesh-e Milli and the Commission on Monitoring Government Acts of the Afghan Parliament is a part of this," said Tayanj, a spokesman for the party.

Dostum is a running-mate of Ashraf Ghani Ahmadza, a leading reformer and former World Bank executive, in the upcoming election. Unlike the disqualified Gilani, Ghani made the cut and is on the list of 10 remaining contenders in the upcoming presidential race.

The timing of the report's release has been criticized by some Afghan analysts.

Wadir Safi, a law professor at Kabul University, told Radio Free Afghanistan that some lawmakers are trying to purposely discredit some election candidates.

“It seems to be a political maneuver. Other than that, if the government wanted it could have released the names of the land-grabbers beforehand and the land could even have been taken away from them by now," Safi said. Touching on the issue of naming names, Safi said: "I don’t think that the names of big shots can be released under the current government or that their cases will be even sent to court.”

He added that most of the land-grabbers in the country are the friends and allies of Karzai’s government.

That is a sentiment shared by many ordinary Afghans.

Commenting on Radio Free Afghanistan's Facebook page for young listeners, Arianpoor Afkhami said that the land-grabbing won't be resolved by naming powerless individuals.

“The current list does not include the names of the main land-grabbers. Most of the public properties have been grabbed by high-ranking government officials. The Sherpor area in Kabul, residential areas built in parts of Kandahar, and the lands of Dahana-e Ghori in the Baghlan Province are prominent examples of land-grabbing by senior officials in the current government,” Afkhami said.

Asar Hakimi, a young activist in Kabul, told Radio Free Afghanistan that the list prepared by the oversight commission only contains the names of people who lack connections to the government.

“Even if it contained the names of big shots and powerful individuals, they would have been acquitted by the system. This is actually ridiculing the people of Afghanistan,” Hakimi said.

-- Mustafa Sarwar