Nabi Jan, a journalist hailing from village Manduri in Lower Kurram recalls his experiences while reporting from his native town, "I always feel saddened, whenever I report on violent incidents and deaths due to decades-long land disputes".
The former federally administered tribal areas spread over an area of 27,220 square kilometers and have a population of 5 million. For the past 70 years, there have been no land records. Informal settlements and local knowledge of the land demarcation passed on through generations have been the prevalent land management mechanisms. Ambiguity related to land borders has caused numerous violent disputes in the tribal society.
Kurram is one of the seven districts that comprise the merged areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Kurram district is unique due to the partial land settlement documentation that was done during the British rule. However, the meager land record present is in the clutches of tribal heads, whose decision on demarcation is the final word.
Highlighting this lacuna, Muzzamil Hussain a resident of Battama Central Kurram said: "The verdict of Malakans (tribal elders) on land disputes is biased and they often favor the influential party in exchange for monetary rewards".
Post-merger, the locals await land settlement. The Board of Revenue, Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in collaboration with UNDP Pakistan, is digitizing the existing and fresh land records system with technically advanced tools and systems. A pilot exercise in two revenue estates of upper Kurram (namely Alamsher and Dingeela) has been initiated. The data and lessons learned from the pilot exercise will contribute to the system development of land settlement projects that will encompass land recording of the whole of Merged Areas.
Contemporary techniques of precise geo-locating of fresh land measurements, as well as existing paper-based records, will be made available online. The local community will be involved at every step of the process of developing land demarcation, parcel allotment, revenue record updating to safeguard against disputes at the beginning of the program.
“The on-going land settlement activities in two revenue estates of Kurram district, merged areas are based on electronic land management, which will ensure the very basic norm of land administration i.e. transparency of the system and precision of creating land records” maintained Zafar Ali Habib, delivery associate, Land Settlement Merged Areas Governance Project, UNDP.
The previous arrangement under Frontier Crimes Regulation preserved the centuries-old system. Ms Naureen Naseer from Parachinar expressed her concerns that local customs have engendered a weak governance apparatus. Vulnerable factions of the society including youth, women and ethnic minorities are left out of land management and its economic benefits.
Successful transition from paper-based to electronic land management will be revolutionary for the region. Despite all the odds, there is hope that digitization will mitigate the common practice of informal land settlements in the merged areas.
“If my land record is sorted, I can start commercial activities here since it will have legal binding. We can build factories and markets without any fear of tribal feuds” says Shah Fahad from Shilman, Khyber.
The development of a digitized land record will be integral as it will provide a hassle-free service to citizens and economic generation for the nation. For people who own the land, they will now have the deed to it as well.
In May 2018, the seven tribal agencies were merged with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan under the 25th Constitutional amendment bill. UNDP is providing technical assistance to the Board of Revenue Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Land Settlement and Creation of GIS-Based Digital Land Records in Merged Areas.