Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghanistan: Teacher’s Land Seized

Government plans to solve housing issues runs into trouble.
By Fareed Tanha

Teachers in Parwan province have complained that the local authorities are failing to deliver on promises to provide them with plots of residential land.

Instead, local strongmen and their supporters have simply seized hundreds of acres allotted to teachers as part of a long-standing government programme.

The authorities in Parwan say that they are powerless to forcible reclaim any of the state-owned land.

In 2008, as part of efforts to incentivise people to pursue a career in education, the Afghan government decided that all teachers would be eligible for a 300 sq m plot of land on which they could build their own homes.

Plans were drawn up for dozens of settlements around the country, but the scheme soon ran into problems. In many cases, local militias or people with powerful connections simply appropriated state-owned land, particularly in sought-after areas.

President Ashraf Ghani used International Teachers Day last year to promise that land plots would be distributed within six months. This process is yet to be implemented.

Abdul Rauf, 50, a teacher at the Hufyan-e-Sharif school in Parwan, is one of those missing out. Two years ago, along with his fellow teachers, he was promised a plot of land to build a house.

But people connected to a local strongman seized the land, and Rauf was forced to rent a cramped house in the provincial capital Charikar which he shares with with 12 other family members.

Rauf, who has been working as a teacher for the last 25 years, said he felt forgotten about.

“Education is the foundation stone for a country’s future, but teachers aren’t appreciated and even have their rights violated in Afghanistan,” he concluded.

In Parwan, the first part of the teachers’ town was built in 2011 on an area of just over 2,000 acres to the north of Charikar city.

Zulmai Shaheed, director of Parwan’s education department, said that further parcels of land were supposed to have been distributed to teachers this year by presidential decree as part of the second phase of this accommodation project.

Around 40 per cent of this land, however, had been seized and his department was powerless to do anything.

Mohammad Habib Khosti, the education ministry official in charge of so-called teachers’ towns, said that this was a common problem. He explained that 96 so-called teachers’ towns had so far been built in 26 provinces of the country.

However, a third of these had been seized by local strongmen and the ministry had been unable to win back control.

 “We are facing similar problem in Parwan province,” Khosti said. “We sent a delegation to Parwan to solve this problem, but the teachers’ town has yet to be taken back from those who seized it.”

Shaheed said that the names of those involved in the seizures were well-known in Parwan, but that these individuals were so powerful they could act with impunity.

“Everybody, including every government department, knows who is involved in the illegal occupying of these lands,” he said, adding, “We don’t have our own armed forces to enable us to confront them ourselves, but we have written to Parwan’s governor, the security departments and attorney’s office so alert them to these problems.”

But no action had yet been taken, he continued, and the problem was widespread.

 “As well as seizing land set aside for teachers, other areas related to Parwan’s education department, such as parks and green areas, have also been occupied by powerful people,” Shaheed said.

Hameedullah Ameeri, director of Parwan’s independent land authority, agreed that the situation was out of control.

“It’s not only land belonging to teachers’ town that has been occupied illegally, but also other government land in the centre and the districts of Parwan,” he said.

Out of 25,000 acres of illegally appropriated state-owned lands, Ameeri continued, his department had this year been able to take back control of 5,000 acres.

But this had come at a cost; Ameeri said that he personally had received numerous death threats.

Charikar mayor Khwajah Rohullah Sidiqi said that many local militias linked to former jihadi commanders were involved in the land seizures. Parwan’s security and justice departments were too afraid to challenge these groups.

Parwan governor Mohammad Asim also said that those appropriating the land felt able to act with impunity.

“Some people have sold government lands by making hundreds of fake title deeds,” he said, added that building work often took place at night to avoid any clashes with the security forces and because acts on the ground were far harder to deal with.

He alleged that both members of parliament and the provincial council were involved in these land seizures, using their private militias to scare off officials trying to take action, but also declined to provide any names.

Parwan’s provincial council head Ghulam Bahawuddin Jelani said there was no proof that any council members were involved in illegal land seizures. He declined to give any further comment.

Parwan police chief Mohammad Zaman Mamozai said that “opportunists” were taking advantage of ongoing unrest and a vacuum of power to illegally occupy government lands in Parwan.

 “We have received an official letter from Parwan’s education department about the occupation of government lands, but retaking possession of these lands is very difficult for a number of reasons,” he continued, adding that extensive building had already been carried out, especially on the land apportioned for the local teachers’ town

It was extremely problematic to destroy private homes and pay compensation to their owners, not least because the land they were built on had been seized powerful people in the first place,” Mamozai continued.

“In order to solve this problem in the future, the government should include government lands in city planning and distribute residential lands [directly] to people,” he said. “

Parwan’s local authorities confirmed that that they had begun looking into the issue.

Abdul Hafiz Osoli, chief of Parwan’s appellate attorney office, said, “We have received an official letter from Parwan’s education department about the illegal occupation of government lands, but our investigations have yet to be completed and no one has so far been arrested.”

He acknowledged that “the seizure of teachers’ town by powerful people has become a big challenge and a serious problem throughout the country”.

Teachers like Basheer Ahmad Omaid, a 56-year old resident of Qalah-e-Khwajah in Parwan’s Bagram district who teaches at the Numan High School, said that the uncertainty was harming their work.

“I had been serving as a teacher in Parwan province for 25 years when I found myself homeless,” he said. “So I sent a request to Parwan’s education department to ask for a 300 sq m plot of residential land in the second phase of the teachers’ town development. But this zone has been illegally occupied by powerful people and my family and I are still homeless.”

Omaid said that the stress was not only affecting he and his family but also his students.

“In class,” he continued, “I all of a sudden remember that my family is homeless and I feel so hopeless that it affects my teaching.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.

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