- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 30, 2004

GENEVA — Afghanistan could drift into a new conflict if the Karzai government fails to deal with widespread land grabbing and house confiscations by warlords, army commanders, drug dealers and Cabinet ministers, an independent U.N. human rights analyst said yesterday.

The conflict this time would be triggered not by remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda but by ordinary citizens questioning the credibility of the government, said Miloon Kothari, a special “rapporteur” appointed by the world body.

The analyst sounded the alarm as foreign ministers and international officials from more than 60 countries, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, head to Berlin for a conference today and tomorrow to pledge new financial support for Afghanistan.

“If the [Afghan] government itself is involved in land grabbing and [property] speculation, it creates a climate of impunity in the country where others such as warlords, army commanders and drug dealers … will continue to confiscate and grab land where they please,” Mr. Kothari said in an interview with The Washington Times.

Mr. Kothari, who has completed a fact-finding mission to Afghanistan, said drug cartels have seized land from peasants and then forced them to remain on the land growing opium poppies and marijuana.

“We have found evidence that some of the drug money is being whitewashed by the drug cartels by buying property in prime city areas,” he added.

In Kabul, Mr. Kothari said, land cleared in a violent manner by evictions “is primarily being allocated to ministers of the transitional government.”

He said the independent Afghan Human Rights Commission had confirmed his finding that “at least eight to nine ministers of the Cabinet had bought plots at very low throwaway prices from approximately $1,000, and sold [the same land] for $100,000.”

Mr. Kothari identified Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim Khan and Cabinet minister, Yunis Qanuni, as two who had profited from land speculation.

“All the property dealing by the ministers was illegal and illicit and the land should be taken back from the ministers by the government,” he said.

He said there was a need to direct aid funds to build up Afghanistan’s institutional capacity, in particular a stronger legal regime, and to allocate more funds for housing, food and health.

“The government of Afghan- istan has to take responsibility for its own people,” he said.

The U.N. Development Program says Afghanistan will need $27.5 billion in financial aid over the next seven years.

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