By U.S. Army Sgt. April Campbell, International Security Assistance Force Public Affairs
Kabul, Afghanistan (Oct. 27, 2011) — Second only to the Afghan people, land is a crucial resource for the Afghan government – they fight to secure it and work hard to develop it to bring economic stability to the nation.
Now, in an effort to further these causes, the Afghan government, partnered with the United States Aid for International Development’s Land Reform in Afghanistan Project (LARA)and members of the International Security Assistance Force, is taking steps to better manage the land for the Afghan people.
Members from various Afghan government ministries and departments, including the Afghan Land Authority, or Arazi, participated in a consultation workshop to review proposed amendments to the national law governing land management at the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), Oct. 25-26.
“The land management law review workshop is an opportunity for stakeholders to participate in a consensus-based, inclusive process to amend land management law,” said E. Jed Barton, the deputy director for USAID.
In Afghanistan, an estimated 89 percent of the land is owned by the government. As most of this land is rural, agricultural land, Afghanistan’s MAIL is responsible for determining what land belongs to the government, how to lease that land to the private sector and what land belongs to individuals.
“The objective of identifying the land is not to obtain income from it, but how to obtain employment and better the economy for the Afghan people. How much employment will the lease create? In light of these issues, I urge all the participants to review the law,” said Asif Rahimi, the Minister of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock.
As a directorate within MAIL, Arazi is responsible for managing government land. During the past year, the department has been working throughout Afghanistan to improve the government’s ability to manage their land through land leasing, land conflict resolution, land transfer and exchange, land protection, land inventory, land registry, land rights identification and land preparation.
“Our mission is to bring a very transparent entity to focus on all land management issues and also bring all land related issues, which may fall under other ministries or organizations, under one roof for management,” said Haroon Zareef, the director for Arazi.
One way Arazi has done this is through the land rights identification process, or Tasfeya. Like many Afghan programs and procedures, Tasfeya, is a holistic process where a team of ministerial representatives goes to the local community, takes statements from the local people, and reviews the tax records, water rights registration, court documents, and historical maps to determine land ownership.
“The Tasfeya team, consisting of three members of Arazi and MAIL, and one representative each from the Ministries of Justice, Energy and Water, Finance and the local extension of the Ministry of Agriculture, analyze the information and issue a final decision. If either of the parties does not agree to the decision of the seven people, then we send the forms to the courts and they decide,” Zareef said.
Working closely with Arazi, the USAID’s LARA project members mentor the directorate to help them develop a system that incorporates traditional land practices and values and encourages the Afghans to cultivate and develop their land.
“Through the LARA project, we are trying to encourage the government to recognize customary deeds – some of the practices that are done locally to ensure that people have that security in their land – so that people can stay on the land they have spent years living on and investing in,” said Angela Cardenas, a USAID land reform advisor and LARA project manager.
One of the recommended amendments to the Land Management Law reflects this incorporation of the customary deeds into the system. The suggested change, found in Article 5: Legally Valid Documents, gives the authorities directions on how to validate such deeds.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Underwood, of Missoula, Mont., would welcome such a change in the law to garner support for the Afghan government. As the chief of ISAF’s Public Administration Service Cell, Underwood advises and works closely with MAIL, Arazi, the Afghan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office (Afghanistan’s national mapping organization), and the Independent Directorate of Local Governance to help solve internal boundary issues.
“The government will be better connected with the people if it protects their rights to the land they live on,” Underwood said.
While the amended law is still being reviewed, Cardenas, the LARA project team members and ISAF are furthering their efforts to work with the municipalities, where mayors largely control who owns the land.
“The LARA project is working to help the Afghan government formalize informal settlements in Jalalabad,” Cardenas said. “These are people who do not have any recorded documentation of ownership, but have been living in places for, sometimes, up to 50 years. We want to work through the municipality to determine how those people can stay on their land.”
While the official city limits used to be much smaller, local Afghan people have moved into six informal districts around this eastern Afghan city.
“The LARA team is working with the municipal government and the Ministry of Urban Development and Affairs to set up a system where the city of Jalalabad annexes these areas and provides the people city services, like streets, power and garbage collection,” said Underwood. “The residents would pay taxes to the municipal government to fund these services and the people would receive some sort of formal deed to their land.”
While these plans are ongoing at the local level, working within the context of different land laws from 1923 to the current law passed three years ago, the amended law will be the unified voice of the national government. Cardenas is hopeful the Afghan government can come to a consensus and use the democratic process to improve its ability to manage the Afghan land in a way that most benefits the Afghan people.
“Ultimately, we would like to see this legislation passed by Parliament,” Cardenas said. “There is an existing land management law that was issued by President Karzai in 2008 while Parliament was out of session. So, we’d like for this amended law to go through the legislative process and be formally passed through parliament.”