I spent the night outside the Donner Pass town of Truckee. After 12 days on the California coast, it was surprising to see there was still plenty of snow in late June. I took the sharp right north on I-80 into Nevada—past Reno, Fernley, and landed in God-forsaken Winnemucca, where I stayed in one of the hemisphere’s ugliest RV parks. After dinner at possibly the greasiest Mexican restaurant ever, I walked through downtown, which had the saddest little strip of casinos in the (...)
Mazar-e-Sharif Residents and Imbalanced Development in the City
Authorities Happy, Public Dissatisfied
Saturday 9 June 2012, by
All the versions of this article: [English] [فارسى]
Mazar-e-Sharif has seen vast development and reconstructions in the past eight years, but the people don’t see them just and balanced. According to the city’s residents, provincial governor and city’s mayor pay more attention to south of the city by selecting projects solely for the benefit of themselves and their close relatives.
While the residents’ complaints range from misuse of power in changing the sites for distribution of electric power to biases in selection of reconstruction projects in asphalting the roads and to distribution of residential lands, this report will only focus on imbalanced development in road reconstruction.
Difference in Population Percentage
Ahmad Khalid, a resident of Nawbahar area in north of Mazar-e-Sharif city, not only sees the reconstruction projects as unjust, but also considers it discriminatory behavior towards the residents of northern city dwellers.
Khalid says, “If we study the geography of Mazar-e-Sharif city, we know that south of the city used to be gardens, and the people have converted parts of those gardens to residential houses. On average in each jerib (2000sqm) or even in every two jeribs of land a family of 10 or fewer than that dwells.”
In contrast, a huge percentage of population live in northern part of the city, where most of the houses are built in line with the city’s master plan and on government distributed 450sqm area of land.
According to Khalid, only in his street there are about 20 houses that have been divided into two, meaning that in each 225sqm a family of eight to 10 lives.
While there are no proper and accurate consensus of the Balkh province population, but the various surveys that have been done by different international organizations for diverse purposes indicate that the city is home to about two million people. If we make a rough calculation of the city’s residents based on Khalid’s points, we find that the northern part of the city has four times the number of residents than that of the south.
Ahmad Zubair Karimi is a resident of Mirza Qasem Street in center of the city, and he has returned back from abroad after 15 years. Mr. Karimi is astonished to see the development that has been done in the city, but he finds the imbalance in development even more astonishing.
As Mr. Karimi said, “the difference in reconstruction and development is obvious even at a glance. If you go from Zeerat area in north-western part of the city to Solh area in north-east, other than some roundabout which are funded by local businessmen you won’t find any noticeable signs of governmental development projects, but if you travel the same distance from southern part of the city you will find it totally different.”
Although, people have different points and opinions about such vast imbalance in these projects, almost all of them see one common point in it.
According to people, there is imbalance in development because the local authorities want to promote the private properties of Balkh provincial governor and his close allies in the south. According to these people, one important property of provincial governor is the residential township of Khalid Bin Walid, a claim that has repeatedly been refused by the governor.
Starting from the southern wall of Shrine of Hazrat Ali—known as the blue mosque, which marks the center of the city—heading south to Khalid Bin Walid township, the government has paved and asphalted 30-meter-wide two way roads. Interestingly enough, when you enter the newly established township where the construction of most buildings are still half done, the city’s municipality has not only designed and constructed wide two-way roads, but has also asphalted 10-meter-wide service roads on both sides of the main road, along with side drains. In contrast, from the northern wall of the Shrine, where the main road goes to chain of shopping malls, the city’s only Public General Hospital, Military 200-bed Hospital, Medical College, College of Education and the city’s major fruit and vegetable market, the government has paved 10-meter-wide roads.
Engineer Noor Mohammad Farid, a resident of Sayeed Abad area in north of Mazar-e-Sharif says that the mayor has asphalted even the small allies that lead to his friends and his own house, but he has not included Sayeed Abad’s main road even in graveling projects; it clearly is an obvious sign of local government’s discrimination.
Farid continued, “Even if we ignore the discrimination in this matter, there are other obvious points that show the mayor’s bias. The flow of traffic in Sayeed Abad’s dusty road, which is daily used by hundreds of low and high tonnage vehicles, has not only caused environmental problem, but has also caused serious lung diseases. While if you look at the flow of traffic in Khalid Bin Walid, you will clearly notice that in 12 hours of daylight altogether 100 cars may not use this road.”
Farid’s claim has such a strong element of fact that even the traffic police can’t refuse it. As, agreeing with the fact that the flow of traffic is much less in comparison to the city’s main roads Mohammad Ullah the on duty traffic in Shama crossroad in Khalid Bin Walid said, “Only the residents of this township, some property dealers and local laborers who work in these buildings come here. There is no major business center, no fruit or cloth market for which the people should come here.”
According to this traffic police, the flow of traffic in this part is less than half in comparison to the road in central part of the city. Mohummad Ullah said, “In comparison to the roads inside the city, the flow of traffic is at least 70 percent less.”
Technical and Constructional Norms
Engineer Farid claimed that Mazar-e-Sharif municipality has not only failed to consider the balance in road construction, but also failed to abide by the civil engineering norms in road construction. According to Farid, “To construct any type of road the first thing to do is to conduct the road users’ survey. But as we see the municipality has failed to do so, because in addition to the high percentage of residents in north of the city, the existence of Mazar Custom House automatically put the road of northern part of the city in priority. But since neither the mayor nor the provincial governor has done any investment in this part of the city, the pavement and asphalt of northern roads has not only been excluded from the previous construction projects, but will continue to be excluded in the future as well.
Mohammad Rafi Arian is a resident of Istalifi street in South of the city. Mr. Arian said, “I personally am happy the street that leads to my home is asphalted, because even if one square meter of the city is development it will be useful to all. However, if balance is considered in improvement it will keep every citizen satisfied.”
Arian added, “If we don’t turn a blind eye to the reality, the mayor and governor has been biased in project selection. You cannot hide the sun with two fingers.”
Mohammad Younus Moqim the mayor of Mazar-e-Sharif denies all the claims and says that all the development projects in the city have been implemented in accordance with the master plan, with no bias in favor of anyone.
Mazar mayor said, “About 50 percent of the 20 kilometer road that are included in municipality’s future plans have been allocated to northern part of the city, and the actual work on Sayeed Abad and Solh roads will begin in the coming days.”
While mayor made this claim in an interview over a year ago, no actual work in graveling the roads of northern part of Mazar-e-Sharif has taken place, let alone asphalting those roads.
Quite the opposite of mayor’s claim, right one week after his interview, the municipality started paving and asphalting a street, which because of its location and short of use is known as the alleyway (Hayat alleyway), and completed the work in less than a week.
One of the engineers of Mazar-e-Sharif municipality department agreed to talk to me on condition of anonymity. He said, “This local alleyway is asphalted to solely benefit the mayor, because the only factor that put this alleyway in priority is the location of mayor’s house in here.”
In order to balance the report another interview of mayor was obtained, in which he denied asphalting Hayat alleyway because of the location of his own house in the alley. Mazar mayor said, “In Hayat alley there is a mosque and pilgrim place for Shiites and some residents of the city go there for practicing their religions.”
Reemphasizing his previous claims, the mayor added that the proposals of asphalting roads of north will soon be put on bidding.
According to municipality engineer, “it is impossible to defend the laziness and biases of mayor, simply because if the municipality has the budget and personnel to pave 50 percent of the city’s roads, can’t it, at the very least, gravel the other 50 percent? Of course it can, only if it wants to do so.”
Solution to the Problem
Almost all residents of Mazar-e-Sharif have one common solution to the problem, which is to fire the corrupt mayor and replace him with a professional and honest person who feels equal responsibility towards all residents of the city. According to Mazar-e-Sharif residents, this can happen only if the mayor is elected by the people.
Note: The Mayor’s quotes in this article have been taken about a year ago. But no work has been done in the north Mazar-e-Sharif and nothing has changed in the mentioned roads, even to date.