Arazi Officials and community members identify land claims at a recent workshop in Jalalabad. Photo Credit: Gary Hunter & Anna Soave

In a December 6, 2011 story in the Asia Times, Dr. Rafiullah Bidar, the Jalalabad program manager of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, made a striking comment: “It is part of our culture that people kill each other over two issues. . . . One is for land, and the second is women.”

Improving land tenure and land management systems will help reduce violence, increase peace, and promote economic growth, which are among the most pressing challenges facing the Afghan Government.
USAID is currently working to improve land tenure in Afghanistan by providing technical assistance and institutional strengthening to the Government of Afghanistan (GIRoA) entities in Kabul, which play a role in the land tenure process in Afghanistan, through the Land Reform in Afghanistan (LARA) project. LARA is a program jointly developed by USAID/Washington’s EGAT Bureau and USAID/Afghanistan.

This project works directly with the GIRoA entities of Arazi (Afghan Land Authority), Afghan Geodesy and Cartography Head Office (AGCHO), Supreme Court, Ministry of Urban Development Affairs (MUDA), and Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG). Work in Kabul includes policy formation and streamlining of the land tenure process with all related GIRoA entities.

Work is underway on the ground in Jalalabad, where the LARA project is working to develop a process to legalize informal settlements and incorporate these urban properties under auspices of the city. In addition to US government support, the agency needs the support of local communities, whose local knowledge will help to validate, or invalidate land claims – such community level support and involvement should help to address some of the land-based conflicts that now plague the country. Finally, in order to promote economic growth, Arazi needs to ensure the private sector that land and resource rights will be recognized and respected and that the government will not resort to arbitrary expropriations or other actions that create uncertainty and instability. These are difficult tasks but Arazi, working with other GIRoA entities, has begun to clarify rights to land and other resources – a fundamental step in the development process.

Arazi was created in 2009 to deal with substantial and continuing difficulties related to land-based conflict and to support regulatory and legislative reforms. In Afghanistan, many GIRoA entities have a role in the land tenure process. Working across GIRoA is necessary to improve land tenure in Afghanistan. In a country that has been at war on and off for decades, people have been displaced, they have resettled, records and property have been lost or destroyed, all of which contribute to confusion and discord. Afghans have built informal settlements and would like to know if these homes are secure; they would also like more clarity over the transfer of rights to government-controlled lands. Arazi is facilitating land leases and working with civil society, donors, and the private sector to improve the existing Land Management Law and other rules and regulations related to land tenure.

However, land tenure and land administration problems are notoriously tough to address: vested interests, either political or economic, may thwart reform; corruption or lack of capacity may plague a system; and in some cases, finding ways to accommodate formal tenure systems with informal or religious land management systems proves especially difficult. One important strategy for doing this involves building capacity within the agency to record, digitize, transfer, and enforce land tenure and resource rights in a transparent and accountable manner. Arazi hopes, for example, to survey government-owned and disputed lands, identify existing land rights, and register these rights.