Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

AFGHANISTAN: Stolen Land and Political Power

KABUL, Aug 20 2009 (IPS) - Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission says that in the last seven months they have received 12 complaints about stolen land. The complaints cover the map, ranging from Wardak, Panjsher and Kapisa, to Parwan and Kabul.

Shamasullah Ahmadzai, who sits on the commission, says that these complaints generally don’t specifically name the powerful people who took the land because the complainants fear reprisals. “This fact alone paves the way for land-thieves to steal more.”

According to the Killid Media War Crimes Project, last year 500 jirib of land (roughly one third an acre) occupied by the Is’haqzi tribe of Sayed Abad district of Saripul, was actually stolen from 50 families that had been forced from the village.

The families say that that Kamal and Hajji Payenda Muhhamad (who is a member of parliament) are behind the land thefts.

Noorullah, a resident of the area, says that he had to leave his village because commander Kamel oppressed his family. “Our whole family was compelled to leave and our lands have been taken.”

Like Noorullah, many families decide against turning to the government for help. They say that officials do not offer any real assistance and will dare not take the powerful usurpers to court.

Abdul Wasi Khan, who once owned over 200 jirib of land in Sayed Abad, grieves over all he has lost. “My 200 jirib has been taken and my house was destroyed. What shall I do?” he asked hopelessly. Khan believes President Hamid “Karzai’s state is a warlord state and the United States supports these warlords.”

Hajji Payenda Muhammad, who represents Saripul in Afghanistan’s parliament, told Killid. “The land issue involving the Is’haqzai tribes is not a secret. President Karzai even knows about this. The Is’haqzai’s claim to the land is baseless.”

Afghanistan’s Supreme Court says that it hears hundreds of cases each week that have to do with property theft. But many more Afghans are reluctant to take their problems to government officials, because the authorities offer little by way of assistance.

Forty two-year-old Sherin Aqa fled the country during the years of Moscow’s occupation. While he was gone, a commander with a high position in the Soviet-backed government took more than half his property.

Upon Aqa’s return he realised it would be difficult to get his property back.

He says that he went to the attorney general for help, but the government’s legal representatives did nothing for him.

“I familiarised myself with more than 60 judges at the time, but could not get my property back because of fake deeds and nepotism. Now the property has been sold to developers who have built a large building on the site.”

Sixty five-year-old Malim Muhamad Zaman lives near Jalalabad, in Nowabad Village, Kama District. He claims that 30 jirib of his land has been stolen by powerful individuals in the area. He also has a large bundle of documents that he says contain proof of the crime.

“For the last 16 years” says the grizzled old man, “I have claimed the legal deed. The legal deed of the land dates back to 1930, but the sons of Hajji Hassan captured them and claim that the land was an inheritance from their father.”

Like Aqa, Zaman claims that he has doggedly pursued his claim with Afghanistan’s government and justice system. “I repeatedly appealed to the government,” he says. “I showed them the documents, but nobody would listen. My land has three parts and I have the deeds to all three, but still the government would not help me.”

Killid attempted to track down the sons of Hajji Hassan, who live in Pakistan. We were unable to reach the men for comment. In court filings, they have repeatedly stated that their father left the land to them.

But Zaman is far from the only Afghan to have his land taken by the sons of powerful men.

Forty-year-old Habibullah says that 240 jirib of land that he and a partner purchased in Surkhord, Nangahar, has been stolen by Hajji Zahir, son of former minister and governor Hajji Abdul Qadeer. “[Zahir] started construction work on a building on the property. There are armed men there, and they mocked me, daring me to take action against them.”

Habibullah adds that he bought the land with a legal land deed. “When the owner, a man named Sayed Amir, submitted the documents, the head of the village was present.”

When reached by telephone, Amir confirmed that he had in fact sold the land to Habibullah and his partner, Hajji Nader. “The deed that I gave them is evidence,” Amir says. “I gave testimony in the presence of all. I will not go back on my testimony, because I gave them a legal deed.”

Habibullah says that he and his partner have been arguing the matter with Hajji Zahir for two years. He claims that they have gone to both the police and attorney general, but to no avail.

“We went to the district chief of Surkhrod. The chief said that he couldn’t do anything. We went to the police chief. He also said that he couldn’t do anything. He told us that since there were armed men working there, we had to turn to ‘the highest levels’ of government.”

Undeterred, Habibullah went to the Jalalabad police commander. “They said that we had to go to Kabul and bring written orders from there. Then the local police would stop the construction on our property.”

The struggle to regain what is rightfully his has left Habibullah frustrated and tired. “This is not a secret,” he says. Everybody knows that I bought this land under legal deed and he stole it.” Still Habibullah and his partner will not give up. “We will keep on forwarding our case to the highest levels.”

(This is the second of a two-part investigative series on property theft in Afghanistan by Killid Weekly. IPS and Killid Media, an independent Afghan group, have been partners since 2004.)

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