The Stolen Lands of Afghanistan and its People: The State Land Distribution System

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The second in a series of three reports entitled, “The Stolen Lands of Afghanistan and its People; The State Land Distribution System,” this report focuses on how state lands are distributed. This paper is the result of a desktop review and joint research by the UNAMA Rule of Law Unit (RoL) and the Civil Affairs Unit (CAU) in seven provinces—Kabul, Nangarhar, Kunduz, Balkh, Herat, Gardez, and Kandahar.

The media in Afghanistan and government reports have highlighted the extent of illegally obtained state land, also referred to as land usurpation and land grabbing. The power to distribute state land is an extremely powerful tool for the executive, government officials, and others involved in state land administration and management. Reports of land distributions to the political and economic elite suggest that state land distribution in Afghanistan is employed to reward patronage, solidify political loyalty, and exercise and control power. An evaluation of the existing legal framework, practices, and processes for state land distribution is critical to developing an understanding of how this system works and identifying and addressing challenges to the land distribution system as a whole. This report identifies, assesses, and compares the legal framework and existing land distribution practices, and proposes specific recommendations to address overarching challenges to this system. The scope of this report does not address the economic impact of illegal practices resulting, in part, from vulnerabilities in the land distribution system. The illegal land economy and its role in and effect on the overall economy in Afghanistan will be addressed in Part 3 of this Series.

The findings of the RoL and CAU staff underscore multiple challenges, which include: the lack of an overarching and integrated national policy on state land distribution; material deficiencies in the land distribution legal framework and regulatory scheme; a lack of transparency and oversight of the institutions and government officials involved in land distribution; ineffective subnational governance; and limited desirable state land, including urban, peri-urban, and agricultural land.

Specifically, the existing legal framework establishes insufficient criteria for identifying and prioritizing individuals eligible for land distributions and the type of land for which each is eligible. In addition, the system lacks adequate and reliable mechanisms and processes for distributing state land. While the framework establishes basic mechanisms and institutional responsibilities for distributing state land, it is not fully supported by implementing regulations with specific, detailed countrywide mechanisms and processes, resulting in ad hoc implementation. Thus, the workings of institutions, mechanisms, and processes are neither public nor transparent, rendering it difficult to evaluate whether state land distribution complies with the relevant, albeit inadequate, legal framework. Exacerbating this situation is weak subnational governance, with ambiguous and unclear roles and responsibilities.