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An Analysis of Urban Ethnic Inclusion of Master Plans—In the Case of Kabul City, Afghanistan

Department of Civil Engineering and Architecture, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa 903-0213, Japan
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Urban Sci. 2023, 7(1), 3;
Submission received: 19 October 2022 / Revised: 7 December 2022 / Accepted: 7 December 2022 / Published: 25 December 2022
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Urban Agenda)


This study examines the history of master planning in Kabul city and how the government approaches segregation through urban planning. There are five master plans made for Kabul city, starting in 1964, with the others being conceived in 1970, 1978, 2011, and 2018. The civil war exacerbated the ethnic segmentation in Kabul city. The city is ethnically divided mainly among the different ethnicities of Pashtun, Tajik, and Hazara, which live in three different zones. The urban planning literature and master plans for Kabul city are surveyed, starting from the 1960s with the first master plan to the 2018 Kabul urban design framework. The first three master plans were designed on technical rather than communitive rationalities, with authoritarian planning. However, the fourth master plan of 2011 was developed through engagement with citizens and addressed the ethnic segregation in the city in abstract ways. The fifth masterplan, Kabul urban design framework, was a step backward in participatory planning; it also ignored the ethnic segmentation in the city by unequally distributing the future economic zones, administrative and facilities hubs. The past master plans have ignored the ethnic segregation of the city; there is no detailed plan on how the city will approach segregation through urban planning.

1. Introduction

The ‘divided city’ is a term that embraces a variety of phenomena in which cities are separated geographically by ethnicity, race, income, and age [1,2,3,4]. An alarming number of cities, from social and ethnic segregation in the western cities to civil war in Beirut or political division in Berlin, are susceptible to intense intercommunal conflict and violence, reflecting ethnic or nationalist fractures [1]. Cities such as Jerusalem, Belfast, Johannesburg, Nicosia, Algiers, Sarajevo, New Delhi, Beirut, Hong Kong, and Brussels are urban arenas penetrated by deep intergroup conflict. In some cases (such as Jerusalem and Belfast), cities are the focal point for unresolved nationalistic ethnic conflict [4]. These cities can be a battleground between “homeland” ethnic groups, each proclaiming the city as their own [5]. The legitimacy of a city’s political structures and decision-making rules are challenged by ethnic groups seeking an equal or proportionate share of power [4]. Such a flash point city can act as a significant and independent obstruction to the success of the more extensive regional and national peace process [4].
Discrimination, disadvantage, preferences, and social networkism all seem to play a role in segregation [6,7]. The actions of members of minority groups are restricted by discrimination and prejudice by the majority group. Even though most nations prohibit discrimination in the housing and employment markets and the public acceptance of minorities has risen, discrimination persists in daily life [8,9].
An ethnic group is distinguished from or defined by race, religion, national origin, or some combination of these characteristics that contribute to a sense of peoplehood [10]. The group is also defined by its members’ interaction with people from other collectivities within the framework of a social system [11]. However, the term does not apply to the sense of community brought about by a shared socioeconomic condition [12]. The group may function as a social unit due to an internal idea of peoplehood or because other groups view them as distinct entities [13,14].
The ethnic group can result from in-migration to the city [15]. Ethnic groupings are interest groups that compete with other groups for resources in the public arena [11]. Conflict makes people feel threatened; the threat could be physical violence [15] or assimilation, resulting in a loss of cultural identity. As a result, there is frequently a strong need for internal coherence to preserve the cultural history of the group, and the aggregation is perceived as always being defensive in some way [14].
Minorities are typically isolated in overly segregated cities, with their segregation linked to education, employment, poverty, safety, and health care issues. As a result, the spatial segregation of minorities is typically viewed as undesirable [16,17]. Furthermore, in the case of Afghanistan and other countries affected by terrorism, ethnically and religiously segregated settlements are also easy targets for terrorist attacks. For example, district 13 of Shia minorities in Kabul city has been a target of terrorist groups.
The most important and influential sources on urban segregation (whether discussed in terms of ethnic, racial, cultural, or economic terms) have their origins in the post-1950s U.S.A. [2]. However, segregation as a process is as old as the history of urbanization [18]. The study of urban segregation in Afghanistan and Kabul city has not gained any traction, and there are not enough studies on urban segregation in Kabul city.
Afghanistan is a multicultural nation. According to Barth, an ethnic group satisfies the following four requirements: it reproduces biologically, shares essential cultural values, creates a space for social interaction and communication and is characterized by its definitions and those of others [19]. The four significant ethnicities of Afghanistan constitute 90 percent of the population: Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, and Uzbek, and other ethnicities include Turkman, Baloch, Nuristani, Pashai, and others [20]. Afghan ethnicity is a fluid concept, making it enormously challenging to estimate the size of an ethnic group there [21]. Almost 99% of Afghans are Muslims, of which 75–80% are Sunnis, predominantly of the Arian race; the second majority are Shiite Muslims (with some minorities being Sunnis and Ismailis) of Turko-Mongol origin [22,23].
The ethnic urban landscape will challenge urban planners and government policymakers to achieve inclusive and sustainable cities. District 13, a majority Hazara ethnicity, is connected to the Maidan Wardak, Bamiyan, and central provinces of Hazarajat; the Hazara people have preferred to settle in the western section of Kabul [24]. The Tajik people have preferred to settle to the north of Kabul due to its proximity to Parwan and other Tajik majority provinces; Pashtun to the south and east of Kabul due to its proximity to the Pashtun settlement provinces [25]. See Figure 1. Each ethnic territory is connected through a highway to its ethnic regions. Kabul city’s ethnic segregation, which increased following the aftermath of the civil war, makes the city’s urban segmentation a unique case study.
More research on Afghanistan has been done on the anthropological aspects and history of ethnic segmentation at the national level. Less focus has been on urban segregation and how government should approach it. Moreover, the research that is focused on Kabul city has mainly analyzed the ethnic division during and after the civil war of 1992–1996. Samimi studied the historic fabrics of Herat in a western province of Afghanistan. They found the concentration of indigenous inhabitants in less accessible, well-preserved sites and the new incomers in redeveloped areas [26]. However, there is no classification of new incomers’ sub-ethnic groups or origins [27].
In another study by Christine Issa, ethnic groups in Kabul city interact closely through migration. Still, their most substantial linkages are formed through familial ties, ethnic group ties, and regional ties. Typically, immigrants join kin-based communities that have already settled in the city. Here, people can communicate with others who belong to the same group using a mutually-beneficial understanding method. They join relatively small groups for social welfare and cooperative systems, which they need for self-identification. As a result, they reside in a specific area of Kabul [25]. An interpretation of the map drawn by this study is shown in Figure 1. Moreover, Sarwari found that Kabul city is not just segregated by ethnicity but is further divided at the neighborhood level into sub-ethnic communities of geographical communities based on the rural district they migrated from [28].
This research aims to provide a basis for urban planning and political discussion on segregation and planning for urban social sustainability in Kabul city. We conduct an extensive research overview of residential segregation. We aimed to discern if the government of Afghanistan has an urban plan for ethnic inclusion in the city by reviewing the past master plans. Because the master plan has been the only method of land-use planning for the city of Kabul, we compared the previous five master plans in this study. Furthermore, we aimed to find whether the city’s segmentation has been a priority of urban policy. In doing so, we address the following main questions: What does recent research indicate about urban segregation in Kabul? Is segregation discussed in the Kabul city master Plan? What are the government’s responses to segregation?
There are significant limitations in our study on segregation. Because segregation is an inevitably complex, fluid phenomenon, it can be challenging to determine what scales and variables are essential for addressing the topic. For example, mapping ethnic minority concentrations at the regional level may reveal very different findings from mapping minorities at the district or neighborhood level. A study by Sarwari found that D13 of Kabul city has a majority Hazara ethnicity, although, at the neighborhood level, it contains a mix of small communities of other ethnicities in the area [28]. Zooming out too far can obscure the most intense patterns of wealth and deprivation, neighborhood-level division, and the mix of different ethnicities living in a part of a segregated area. At the same time, a narrow focus on one neighborhood can miss wider urban or regional demographic patterns. Moreover, defining what constitutes a minority ethnicity in the country is a controversial topic because there has not been any proper population survey done on ethnic size in the country.

2. History of Master Planning Kabul

Afghanistan gained independence from the British in 1919. In 1925, the capital Kabul had a population of about 90,000. The 1940s and 1950s saw the foundation of the current Kabul city being built, a time when residential growth was actively occurring. After the 1950s, the street network was expanded, residential development continued, and Kabul, with a population of 380,000 in 1962, became the largest city in Afghanistan. With the increasing size and population of the city, the city needed the plan to guide its growth; hence, the first masterplan of Kabul city was created. A master plan is an overarching planning document and spatial layout which is used to structure land use development and establish a framework for city growth. Its scope can be as long as ten years [29,30,31,32,33].
There have been five master plans made for Kabul, starting in 1964, with the following plans being conceived in 1970, 1978, 2011, and 2018. Very little information is available for the first three masterplans, except a hand drawing in the Kabul municipality archives. Hence, it is hard to gather more information about the plans; however, researchers have digitized them [32,33,34,35]. Figure 2 shows the five master plans, and Table 1 shows comparisons of the master plans.
There has not been much research on urban planning history in Afghanistan. However, Calogero examined the politics of urbanization and various planning modes in Kabul. He classified planning into three categories: formal (concrete), informal (clay), and exceptionalist (mirror glass). He digitized the first three master plans, and the rationality of the plans was analyzed [33,36]. Calogero’s study concludes that three decades of political turmoil and a century of modernization significantly weakened sovereignty.
Moreover, Beyer investigated Soviet urban planning, housing, and institution-building programs in Kabul throughout the 1960s. She examined Soviet technical assistance related to Afghanistan’s housing and town planning projects and the competing coexistence of capitalism and communist development missions in Afghanistan. She concluded that the vision of Kabul city’s first master plan and the expertise of international planners of the 1960s delivered an average experience of modern urban life for a minority of city residents until the progress was halted by conflict and war [29,36,37].
Mushkani has studied urban planning, the political system, and public participation in a century of urbanization in Kabul. The available urban planning literature concerning Afghanistan’s urbanization process from 1919 to 2020 was investigated. In a century of urbanization in Kabul, the study identified urban planning patterns, the function of national, supranational, and multiplied Foucauldian powers in plan preparation and implementation, the plan’s vision, and the approving authorities. Since the middle of the 20th century, decentralized supranational forces have governed urban planning; only in the early 21st century have residents begun to have a voice, and only in the context of unplanned settlement upgrading. Furthermore, citizens have not played a significant role in determining where they will live in the future; their perspectives are also neglected. Finally, during the past century of urbanization, the government has been the only institution in charge of approving urban plans, and technical rationality has dominated the urban regime [36].
Mushkani divided the past century of urbanization into three distinct paradigms: biopower, complementary, and sporadic urban planning. Biopower has progressively replaced brutal sovereign power, exerting constructive influence on the subject and administering and optimizing the individual’s life through controls and inclusive regulations [38]. This planning mode started at the end of the 18th century and continued until the mid-20th century in Kabul. This paradigm change was evident in the implementation of many political, social, and economic reforms and the first significant urban development effort, which consisted of adopting a district-by-district development urban planning technique [36].
Complementary planning paradigm transformation occurred after the 1950s. Because of the rivalry between the two supranational Cold War superpowers, the East and West blocs, or the capitalist and communist blocs, and their intent to show their superior planning ability, some researchers referred to this paradigm as competitive planning. When the USSR invaded the nation, the complementary planning paradigm gradually evolved toward the East Bloc. The third paradigm emerged following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Because too many simultaneous, frequently non-collaborative planning bodies were working for the country’s rehabilitation, which was started and directed by centralized national and decentralized international powers, this paradigm is known as sporadic planning [36].
The first master plan was prepared in 1962 by Afghan experts with the support of advisors from the USSR. The plan expected 800,000 inhabitants in an area of 23,780 ha within 25 years [39]. The model did not show dedicated green space; however, the undeveloped mountainous areas and the belt along the Kabul River appear to have been dedicated open spaces. The 1964 master plan’s future growth was a series of microregions assembled into four regions [33,37]. The microregion neighborhood comprises apartments housing 2500 to 5000 people, with essential services, local shops, a health center, a cinema, and a primary school [40]. Microregion One was completed in the 1960s, Two in the 1970s, and Three in the 1980s. Microregion Four was begun in the late 1980s; however, construction was abruptly abandoned in 1992 when the Najibullah regime was overthrown [32,33,37,41]. Figure 2a shows the first master plan.
The second master plan Figure 2b was prepared in 1970 by Soviet experts and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The plan covered 29,900 ha to accommodate 1.416 million residents [33,34,39,42]. It was designed to guide the growth of Kabul from 500,000 to about 800,000 people. As with contemporaneous Soviet master plans, substantial urban areas were set aside explicitly for green space and industry. In contrast to the first master plan, where all new residential development appeared to be based on microregions, this plan also included single-family housing districts similar to what Afghan planners had been doing from 1930 to 1961. Khair Khana, in the northeastern area, and Khushhal Khan Mena, were developed according to this plan in the 1970s as districts of single-family houses on the extreme northwest and west of Kabul [33].
Preparation of the third master plan started in 1976 and was approved in 1978. Figure 2c. The plan covered 32,330 ha for a population of two million in 2002 [33,42]. Three new features of this plan were essential. First, it promoted much higher residential densities to double the city’s population without increasing the gross developed land area. Mid-rise densification only began in a few areas of Kabul after 2002 and only in private apartment districts or Shahrak. Second, most of the Logar riverway and part of the Kabul riverway were reserved as undeveloped aquifer recharge areas. To this day, the areas designated as aquifer recharge areas in the 1978 plan remain the primary sources from which the city pumps its urban water supply [33]. In 1999, a special decree was issued on implementing the Kabul master plan, which included changes to the third master plan. These changes were proposed by the Head of the Municipality and approved by the Head of the State. Eventually, a decision was taken to suspend the modified third master plan to look for a more responsive and implementable Kabul city plan [25,32,43].
The bloodless coup of the 1970s caused political unrest in Kabul. In 1979, Soviet forces invaded Afghanistan, and the invasion lasted until 1989. Many refugees entered the capital city during the civil war that followed the occupation, and Kabul’s population reached 1.5 million in 1992. Kabul was the scene of a civil war that broke out following the fall of the communist government in 1992. As each ethnic group in the nation fought for government control, many people immigrated to Afghanistan’s suburbs and other countries. Before the civil war, Kabul city was less segmented; however, the civil war caused the city to become segregated by ethnicity. The country’s civil war and political unrest prevented the implementation of the master plan throughout the years; therefore, people erected homes informally instead. Informal settlements are defined as settlements which are built after 1978 without compliance with the third master plan and detail plans. The informal settlements occupied 76% of the existing residential area in 2008 [29,32,39,44,45].
International armies under the command of the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. The country saw a period of peace for a short time, and aides started pouring into the city; the city of Kabul saw a significant transformation as refugees from outside of Afghanistan returned to the nation and opted to reside there in large numbers, seeking jobs and opportunities. People from rural areas also moved to Kabul. As a result, the city’s population dramatically increased. According to estimates, four million people live in the city, and 80 percent reside in informal settlements [46,47,48,49].
The Kabul city master plan of 1978 was revised by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (hereafter as JICA) at the request of the Kabul municipality. The fourth master plan was created in Japan and authorized by the president in 2012 using the previously-examined data from the Inter-continental Consultants and Technocrats study (2007–2008) and the Kabul Metropolitan Area Urban Development master plan (2008–2009), both financed by the JICA [4]. It suggested a population assumption of 3.7 million for the metropolitan region in the case of adequate infrastructure availability and projected as far ahead as 2025. The administration was unable to implement it [32]. See Figure 2d and Table 2.
The Kabul Urban Design Framework was created in 2018 by SASAKI, a Boston-based American company, in collaboration with the formerly-named Ministry of Urban Development and Housing Afghanistan (MUDH) in order to more sustainably guide the city’s growth and draw private sector investment based on the vision of the president under the National Unity Government [50,51]. The urban framework serves as a bold road map, outlining how the president saw Kabul developing and expanding over the coming years. There are two corridor designs for key highways, Dar ul-Aman and Massoud boulevards, and a citywide framework [36,50]. See Figure 2e and Table 2.
After population growth and the government’s failure to implement the master plan, Kabul’s informal settlement has grown significantly. The majority favored relocating inside their ethnic groups, resulting in a divided city [25]. Thus, it has been divided among the different ethnic groups of the country; this has not just created a problem for the government in the distribution of resources, but it is also a problem for the social sustainability of the city’s future.

3. Materials and Methods

The master plans of Kabul city were comparatively studied to find if ethnic segregation was considered in planning. We studied ethnic segregation research to find how other advanced segregated cities approached an ethnically segmented city. We studied the ethnicities through general cultural, anthropological, and social theories and then reviewed them in the case of Afghanistan. We also did a literature review on Afghanistan’s ethnicities throughout the years and Kabul’s urban community development history to determine how the city is ethnically divided into different zones.
We gathered data from Afghanistan organizations, such as Kabul Municipality District 13 land-use, UN-Habitat land-use for Kabul city, and Aerial imagery of Kabul city from Kabul Municipality and the Ministry of Urban Development and Land (MUDL). Data on the five master plans were acquired from the Ministry of Urban Development and Land of Afghanistan and Kabul municipality. We combined the data into the Geographic information system (G.I.S.) with the data from our literature review; we created maps of Kabul city ethnic segregation and compared them with the master plans.

4. Result and Discussion

4.1. The First Three Master Pans

The first three master plans from 1962, 1965, and 1970 were developed during a period of soviet influence in Afghanistan. Hence, little data are available from this period. The Kabul city boundary was small at that time, with less segregation. With the passing years of wars and migration, the segmentation of the city increased [25]. Between the creation of the first master plan and the collapse of the Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, different regimes changed, and the capital Kabul went through turmoil; all the infrastructure was ruined [33,41], including the data for the city’s development. There are little data available to discuss whether the planners have considered the importance of ethnic segregation in urban planning. However, the first three plans focused more on urban city center redevelopment, with more public housing in microregions [37]. In the 1978 plan, the western part of Kabul city was planned to be built as a medium high-rise residential, and it was planned to be developed using urban redevelopment; however, the western part of Kabul was an informal settlement zone for the Hazara ethnicity. These first three master plans developed following a hierarchical matrix that focused more on political than economic or social centralities [36]. During this same period, the western countries’ approach to urban planning has been more incremental, in which public participation was critical [52]. However, in Kabul, none of these technical cooperation initiatives engaged citizen input at the decision-making and vision development stages; they might be characterized as authoritarian urban planning projects. With centralized planning, these cooperative instances aimed to systematize Kabul’s future development based on technical rationality [4].
As per Mushkani, in the second paradigm, complementary planning, King Zahir gradually pushed for modernization. The supranational authorities of the East and West Blocs oversaw urban planning and urbanization and established institutions in architecture, urbanism, education, and even governance [36]. The master plan did not consider citizens’ participation during plan preparation and implementation. Additionally, during the ratification process, locals were marginalized [36]. In this complimentary paradigm, the instances of the East and West blocs’ involvement in the construction of urban space are pieces of a post-colonial narrative that sought to leverage sociopolitical and economic ties over technical support during the Cold War. They can also be studied further from the perspectives of modernity’s exportation and production in culture and space, influenced by communist and capitalist political ideologies [53]. Several microregions and urban public parks are two evident results of the 1964 master plan as the formation of productive negotiation between participants in constructing urban space [54]. Hence, these historical studies of this era can show that the planning priority during this time was more political and centralized than the resident’s ethnic inclusion.

4.2. JICA Master Plan 2011

The 2011 master plan by JICA addressed the problems of ethnic segregation in Kabul city. The plan addressed it as a problem and an opportunity as a potential source of dynamism and plural society: The city’s future should be a planned development for mixed cultures and ethnicities for socioeconomic diversity. The approach was to equally connect each current ethnic settlement to the new city of Kabul Dehsabz. The city of Kabul draws visitors because it offers a variety of economical options. The plan stated that the new city in Dehsabz and the current Kabul city must jointly provide the broadest range of economic and employment opportunities with a complementary functional division between them [39].
The metropolitan area’s regional artery transit system was suggested to address the demands that were anticipated to arise in tandem with regional growth. In order to promote the complementary growth of the segregated urban areas, it was planned to connect them, including the new urban areas that would be constructed in the new city and other outlying areas. The plan created numerous links between the old and modern Kabul cities for integrated growth of the capital region with a multi-centric urbanization design. It was intended to make it easier for the inter-regional traffic that moves through the Kabul municipality area, which was anticipated to grow as the Kabul municipality area expanded. It was intended to improve east-west and north-south connections without going through Kabul’s center [39].
JICA, in collaboration with German and French companies, prepared the new Kabul city master plan; it was planned to provide housing for three million and was created collaboratively with the Kabul city master plan [32]. It was anticipated that the new metropolis would grow in tandem with Kabul. By reducing the strain of urbanization, the successful connection with the new city would enhance urban spaces in Kabul. The regional transportation network was expanded with a ring road and stronger east-west and north-south axes to achieve these criteria [39]. However, several issues with land ownership, infrastructure provision—particularly water supply and warlord predicaments—and a lack of political commitment helped to keep the development on paper [55].
There are currently no circular roads in Kabul; instead, the national and provincial highways that make up the primary arterial road network are radial roads that extend from the city center. Kabul city is divided into various segregated urban regions due to the topography and planned urbanization. Comparatively speaking, this urbanization plan is less effective at providing various urban services than a conurbation or urbanization along a corridor. To improve the effectiveness of urban areas, these segmented urban centers need to be appropriately connected [39]. The JICA plan was holistic and had a participatory approach toward the existing communities; however, the implementation never happened. The municipality took a long time to prepare and implement the neighborhood-detailed plan, partly due to a lack of institutional authority and political will, the absence of necessary urban regulations, an out-of-date land expropriation law, a lack of technical expertise, and warlord-related issues [42,56].
The focus of the JICA plan has been on developing a new city, connecting each ethnic settlement equally to the new city through a better route design, and making a ring road around Kabul city. However, there is no detailed plan for tackling ethnic segregation in the current city and the possible ethnic segmentation in the new city. It has been documented that the people of Afghanistan prefer to live among their kinship, tribe, and ethnicity [57,58]. We need an effective urban policy to develop a new city, and ethnic segregation should be a prime factor in developing a plan for a metropolitan area of Kabul.

4.3. Kabul Urban Design Framework (KUDF) 2018

The Kabul Urban Design Framework 2018, which is the current master plan of the city, differs from the JICA in two primary ways. First, as the name suggests, it focuses on the city’s quality of urban design, leading to strategies that speak to regional issues but resolve them at the urban design scale. The second primary difference is that the Urban Design Framework proposes a growth strategy centered around the existing city. Growth is imagined as expanding the existing urban fabric rather than a new development in a satellite city. The design focuses on developing corridors in different city directions; the corridor is better for developing a citywide mix of cultures because people of different ethnicities invest in different parts of Kabul [35,50].
One significant difference in the 2018 plan has been the involvement of women’s empowerment through urban planning. Many of these strategies are integrated into the more significant design concepts of this Urban Design Framework. This integration reflects the interconnectedness between a thriving Kabul and the success of women in the future. The plan has highlighted how critical it is to deliberately design for women in Kabul. These strategies range from policy proposals and improvements to civic institutions such as education to physical interventions to create spaces that recognize the unique needs of women in Afghanistan today [35]. Sasaki has identified four key areas to engage urban design. First, education: providing better schools and educational opportunities for women of all ages. Second, health and wellness: empowering women to lead more active lifestyles and providing access to adequate healthcare. Third, economic development: creating facilities to support women in the workforce and capacity-building to help women generate income. Fourth, accessibility: providing streets and transit networks where women can safely and comfortably travel across Kabul at all times of the day [35]. Hence, KUDF is an updated plan for designing a futuristic idea for women’s safety and empowerment. Women, Business, and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform employs eight indicators structured around women’s interactions with the law as they begin, progress through, and end their careers. Afghanistan scored the lowest; it is hard for women to choose where to live and to own or rent immovable properties [59].
However, the plan ignored ethnic segregation in the city. Concerning public involvement, the framework is seen as a step backward from the 2011 master plan across the planning, designing, and decision-making processes. After the framework’s approval in The High Council for Urban Development session, the president called for MUDH to provide Dari and Pashto translations of the framework. This symbolizes the totalitarian nature of the Afghan urban planning approach. A governmental institution was tasked to translate the framework of the signed master plan into local languages [36]. The framework’s planned design for two main boulevards utterly disregarded the elements of the existing built environment by proposing to demolish the structures that front the streets and rebuild the intended corridors while the locals were not even aware of this intention [36,60]. Research has found that ethnicity is essential for the residents. Moreover, in the case of urban redevelopment, residents want to be relocated inside their current ethnic communities [28].
Figure 3 shows the future economic zones and significant facilities distribution per KUDF; the existing educational hub, which will also be the future of educational zones, government, and heritages, is towards the center and south of the city, partly overlapping with the Hazara ethnic settlement. Industrial and training, healthcare, new economies, agriculture, food processing, and ecology are planned to be developed towards the city’s eastern side, which is occupied by a majority Pashtun ethnicity. Figure 3 shows that ethnic segregation was not a factor in developing the KUDF plan; the Tajik ethnic settlement has been ignored for equal distribution of future economies.
Future economic urban resources and facilities equal distribution for each ethnic settlement is crucial. The residents of each ethnicity can leave their ethnic settlement to visit other segregated areas for business and daily work to see each other and interact. In the previous republic government, unequal resource distribution was a significant factor in ethnic protest in Kabul city. Researchers argue that the distribution of resources can be a reason for interethnic conflict in urban areas. The role of urban policy in ethnically-polarized cities is problematic in that urban policymakers must contend with both the particular exigencies of daily urban life and broader ideological imperatives [4]. When ethnic and nationalist demands combine and have an enormous, persistent impact on distributional issues at the municipal level, this is known as urban “polarization,” which is a more intense and intransigent kind of urban conflict [61,62]. One of the significant roles of urban policy in such circumstances is to ameliorate urban conflict through an acceptable allocation of urban resources across ethnic groups and neighborhoods [4].
In Kabul city, each ethnic settlement has been a representative of the country’s ethnicity in general, any action towards the ethnically segregated areas will be taken as a political movement towards an ethnicity. Hence, the equal distribution of resources and urban planning is vital for each ethnicity so that they can see themselves as equal in the eye of the government. Political science theorists have de-emphasized applications to city governance and management, assuming that the city reflects the playing out of broader power distributions at a concrete level [4]. The study of urban policy provides the opportunity to connect broader political ideologies to specific urban territorial outcomes, which significantly affect group identity and perceived viability and, ultimately, the extent and manifestations of urban unrest and violence [4].
Urban planning analysts have scrutinized the roles of urban professionals in local politics [62,63,64,65]. However, an urban policy most directly affects interethnic relations through its significant influence on the control of land and territoriality [66,67,68,69]. The land-use planning function of government is not a neutral allocator of advantage but rather constitutes, in most cities, a quiet distributive mechanism [70]. Hence, extending material benefits (urban services, social security insurance, and urban employment) may moderate intergroup material disparities [4].
KUDF has planned Kabul’s future growth towards the east of the city for the following reasons: water resources that feed Kabul’s aquifer tend to exist primarily to the west. To the north, a significant agricultural zone should be prioritized and protected. The south and north of the existing city feature steep mountains with limited opportunities for connectivity. All of these factors point to the east as the most attractive direction for development. Its relatively flat terrain, multiple points of access to the existing urban fabric, and water availability position it to absorb significant growth over the next 20 years [35]. The plan has focused chiefly on technical rationality, undermining the social impact of segregation and equal resource distribution. Without ethnic consideration and a proper plan for segregation, it will create more conflict and problems in implementing the project. Expanding to the east without a policy for de-segmentation will benefit one ethnicity, and the other two ethnic settlements will be isolated.
Kabul city urban policy planners should approach the city’s redevelopment plan carefully, and the team leading the project should consist of diverse ethnicities. This is because when there is a single dominating ethnic group in control of the government apparatus, that ethnonational group’s moral doctrines regarding sovereignty and cultural identity will merge with the state’s urban policy. In other cases where a third-party overseer may govern the city or after the resolution of political conflict, the government is more likely to pursue a civic ideology that seeks to accommodate or transcend ethnonational ideologies [4]. Considering the history of Afghanistan and the interethnic conflict, and one of the ethnicities in control of the government, it will be challenging for urban planners to approach segregation in the city. If segregated areas are redeveloped through urban renewal for de-segmentation of the settlement, residents of the segregated area may consider it as ethnic cleansing or washing away the identity of their places.
Maintaining group identity is critical to interethnic relations in a polarized city and can be affected by urban government actions [4]. Ethnicity is the main reason for the national division in Afghanistan [71]. Studies have indicated more interethnic contact in areas with mixed ethnic groups, which is generally accompanied by knowledge spillover [72,73] and a decrease in ethnic prejudice [74]. Ethnic inclusion planning, which results in ethnicities interacting with each other daily, can help with the national peace process in Afghanistan. Urban accommodation without national peace would leave the city vulnerable and unstable, while national peace without urban accommodation would be unrooted in intergroup and territorial relations’ practical and explosive issues [4]. However, it will be challenging for urban planners in Kabul—the paradox of maintaining ethnic identity and planning for social sustainability.

5. Conclusions

The first three master plans of 1964, 1970, and 1978 were developed during a more totalitarian regime; they focused on government-oriented planning without inclusive planning and public participation; they were designed based on technical rationality rather than communicative. The plans focused on microregions and urban renewal of the old city of Kabul. As the plans were more politically centrally oriented than toward social and economic centralities, they were eventually abandoned.
After the collapse of the communist regime in Afghanistan in 1992, Kabul city became the center of a civil war. Each ethnicity fought to control the government. Hence, the civil war exacerbated the ethnic segmentation in the city. Later, in 2001, with the United States-led invasion, Kabul city underwent massive reconstruction, and informal settlements grew as the government lacked institutional capacity. People migrated from rural areas to Kabul, and refugees returned to the city; most preferred settling among their ethnicities.
After the population increase in the city, the government of Afghanistan, with help from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), developed the new Kabul master plan in 2011. The plan has focused on connecting different parts of the city with a ring road and developing a new metropolitan city master plan for Kabul. The master plan significantly changed the city’s traditional planning, engaging the citizens and social centrality. However, the plan has focused less on the segregation of Kabul city. It is planned to connect the current Kabul city ethnic settlement with the new Kabul city equally, to have an ethnically diverse new city, without any detailed plan. Because of a lack of institutional authority, political will, and required urban regulation, the Kabul municipality failed to implement it.
As a comprehensive plan for the city, Kabul’s urban design framework (KUDF) ignored the city’s segregation. The plan is a step backward from the 2011 plan regarding public participation. The framework ignores the existing built environment around the corridors, tearing down homes and communities. The future resource planning is not considered to be distributed equally across the city for each ethnic settlement; the result will be a more segregated city with unequal distribution of facilities and will enlarge the already existing inter-ethnic conflict of Kabul city. Urban planners and urban policymakers in the country should reconsider their approach. The past master plans ignored the critical factor of ethnic segregation in the city and how the government should approach that issue. There is no straightforward approach or urban policy for the segmentation of Kabul; this will make the city more polarized and dangerous for a sustainable future.
Urban policymakers should focus on ethnic inclusion in their planning because ethnicity has always been a sensitive issue for the citizens of Afghanistan. A city where different ethnicities can interact with each other daily through a better design is needed. More research is required on Afghanistan’s ethnic segregation; the study needs to be continued at the regional and neighborhood levels because of the complexity of residential segmentation.

Author Contributions

F.S. and H.O. authors have contributed equally to the paper. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.


We are thankful for the reviewers of this paper with insightful comments to improve this research. We are grateful to the Japan International Cooperation Agency for providing a scholarship for a master’s degree in Japan and to the University of the Ryukyus for providing a tuition fee exemption during the Ph.D. of the Correspondence author. We want to thank the ministry of urban development and land (MUDL), Afghanistan, and Kabul Municipality for helping us gather the data. Moreover, we appreciate the help from our laboratory colleagues.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest associated with this publication, and there has been no significant financial support for this work that could have influenced its outcome.


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Figure 1. Kabul City Ethnic Map.
Figure 1. Kabul City Ethnic Map.
Urbansci 07 00003 g001
Figure 2. Kabul City Master Plans through the years: (a) First Master Plan of Kabul, 1964 (Calogero 2011); (b) Second Master Plan of Kabul, 1970 (Calogero 2011); (c) Third Kabul Master Plan (Calogero 2011), 1978; (d) Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Master Plan, 2011; (e) Kabul Urban Design Framework (KUDF) 2018, Sasaki, Inc.
Figure 2. Kabul City Master Plans through the years: (a) First Master Plan of Kabul, 1964 (Calogero 2011); (b) Second Master Plan of Kabul, 1970 (Calogero 2011); (c) Third Kabul Master Plan (Calogero 2011), 1978; (d) Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Master Plan, 2011; (e) Kabul Urban Design Framework (KUDF) 2018, Sasaki, Inc.
Urbansci 07 00003 g002aUrbansci 07 00003 g002b
Figure 3. Intersection of Ethnic settlements buffer zones with existing and future facilities distributions according to KUDF.
Figure 3. Intersection of Ethnic settlements buffer zones with existing and future facilities distributions according to KUDF.
Urbansci 07 00003 g003
Table 1. Master plans of Kabul.
Table 1. Master plans of Kabul.
Projected Population0.8 million1.2 million2 million6.7 million8.8 million
Allowed floors36162010+ floors
ParticipantsThe French-led team of 15 expatriatesA UNDP-led team from 35 countriesUSSR- led the team from C.Z., G.D.R., IN, and AUJICA-led team with Afghanistan GovernmentAmerican Sasaki Company-led with Afghanistan Government
Main TargetFocused building microregion housingApart from Microregions, they also include single-family housing, green space, and industrial areaPromotes much higher residentialdensities, riverways are reserved as undeveloped aquifer rechargeareasFormulate a regional development plan focusing on harmonized development of the Dehsabz New city and the existing Kabul city. Developing corridors, Specially for two main boulevards
Women inclusion----Civic institutions like education to physical interventions to create spaces for women in the city
Preservation of Heritage---Preserved Old city and the heritage buildingsPreserved Old city and heritage buildings, Including a few parks
Ethnic Inclusion---The plan tried to connect each ethnic settlement equally to the new Kabul city to minimize segregation in future -
Table 2. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) 2011, and Kabul Urban Design Framework 2018 Master Plans Chapters.
Table 2. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) 2011, and Kabul Urban Design Framework 2018 Master Plans Chapters.
NoKabul City Master Plan 2011Kabul Urban Design Framework 2018
  • Procedure for land use planning …
  • Directions for physical development of Kabul city
  • Future urban structure of Kabul city
  • Land and built environment development strategy
  • Formulation of land use plan
Citywide Framework
Design Concepts
  • Corridors as catalysts
  • Regenerate the central city
  • Expand to the east
  • Ring road as three zones
  • Integrate organic neighborhoods
  • Sustainable infrastructure
  • A network of higher education
  • Connect agriculture and the city
  • Cultural and ecological conservation
  • Create and cultivate public space
  • Empowering women in Kabul
Citywide Systems
  • Growth & development
  • Landscape framework
  • Mobility
  • Infrastructure
  • Existing condition of urban transport infrastructure
  • Road traffic characteristics
  • Issues and strategy for transport Development in Kabul city
  • Traffic demand forecast
  • Road network development plan
  • Public transport and logistics development plan
  • Traffic management system development plan
Corridor Districts
  • Dar ul-Aman boulevard
  • Massoud boulevard
  • Water supply system development
  • Rainwater drainage system
  • Sewerage system
  • Power distribution system development plan
  • Telecommunication and I.C.T.
  • Solid waste management system development plan
Infrastructure Systems
  • Mobility
  • Water
  • Energy infrastructure
  • Solid Waste
  • Total project cost
  • Project cost by sector
  • Project cost to be implemented by Kabul Municipality
Implementation strategies
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Sarwari, F.; Ono, H. An Analysis of Urban Ethnic Inclusion of Master Plans—In the Case of Kabul City, Afghanistan. Urban Sci. 2023, 7, 3.

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