Welcome to Kabul! Here’s some brass knuckles

Parts of the city are slipping into lawlessness as NATO focuses on the countryside and its ultimate withdrawal

Topics: Global Post, Afghanistan War, Kabul, Counterinsurgency, NATO, ,

Welcome to Kabul! Here's some brass knucklesWomen line up as a policeman keeps watch during the distribution of winter assistance in Kabul. (Credit: Reuters/Ahmad Masood)
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global Post

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmad pulled a set of brass knuckles from his pocket to demonstrate how unsafe he feels in his Kabul neighborhood. Occasionally he can also be found carrying a knife or gun for self-defense.

“During the night when people go to wedding parties in the city and they want to come back here, no taxi driver is ready to bring them,” he said.

Such is life for the people of Company, a sprawling area on the fringes of Kabul. As the West focuses fighting in the countryside, this part of the Afghan capital has slipped unnoticed into lawlessness.

The bloodshed and intimidation are often evident only in the rumors and whispers that are uttered behind closed doors. But then they burst into the open, and another man is beaten or killed in the street.

Fingers are pointed at warlords, insurgents, corrupt officials and common criminals, depending on who is asked. All the residents who spoke to GlobalPost in recent months were scared to give their full identities.

Company lies on the main route leading from the center of Kabul to southern Afghanistan and, eventually, Kandahar. The majority of its inhabitants are ethnic Pashtuns, a community that makes up the bulk of the Taliban. Here many of them hail from the nearby province of Maidan Wardak.

Ahmad is among them. The earliest signs of trouble he remembers are the assassinations of two policemen in separate attacks in broad daylight a few years ago. House raids by the Afghan security forces have become common ever since, he claimed.

This has caused resentment and accusations that former members of the old Northern Alliance movement that fought the Taliban regime are using their influence inside the government to discriminate against the local population.

The arrests and acts of violence now feed off each other, making it difficult to ascertain exactly which comes first.

Incidents described to GlobalPost include the killing of a man at night near a car market and a case where gunmen entered the house of an official, put a pistol to the head of his daughter and demanded a ransom to spare her life.

Ahmad runs a local business that is only about 300 feet from his home, but he still packs the brass knuckles for his journey to and from work. His main worry is common criminality, though he admitted known rebels “are walking freely.”



To show what he meant by this he indicated a man sitting close to us who had memorized the Quran and was active in the resistance.

“This will be a problem for me because he has seen you and you are a journalist,” he said.

The Taliban’s ability to strike at the heart of Kabul was made evident last month, when groups of heavily armed militants staged two high-profile assaults inside the city. The first targeted the headquarters of the Afghan intelligence service and the second involved an attack on the headquarters of the traffic police.

Here the guerrillas are quieter. Most do not view Company as a battlefield, choosing instead to stay with relatives during visits from the countryside or hold down ordinary jobs, just like the rest of the population. They fight only in the provinces.

Omari is a 25-year-old rebel from Maidan Wardak. He claimed insecurity in Company was being fueled by figures loyal to Abdul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf, a powerful lawmaker and key former Northern Alliance member who is one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords.

He accused Sayyaf’s followers of acting with impunity, stealing land and even ordering residents to pay to use a public street.

“All of the people are praying that the Taliban return and this oppression is pushed back,” he said.

The claims made about Company are often impossible to independently verify. However, there are widespread concerns that instability is rising in different parts of the Afghan capital.

Late last year Shukria Barakzi, a Member of Parliament for Kabul, told GlobalPost that criminal networks that team up with former mujahedeen commanders are causing unrest in and around the city.

She complained that key positions within the security forces were politicized, rekindling old rivalries among factions from the civil war era.

“It’s not only one area in Kabul, there are lots of areas in Kabul,” she said. “Unfortunately Afghan soldiers cannot go to some of the areas at night with their uniforms on.”

The police insist they are in control of the situation in the city and like to parade men they have arrested in front of local media in an effort to reassure the public. The government, meanwhile, has repeatedly dismissed the idea that the country will slip into chaos as the United States and its allies withdraw.

None of it is much comfort to the people of Company, who already live in a state of fear and paranoia.

Ismat, a civil engineer living in the area, said political and criminal violence were “very bad.”

He said police were scared to park their vehicles outside their own houses and the relatives of wealthy businessmen are increasingly targeted by kidnappers. He also accused followers of Sayyaf of stealing land and terrorizing the population.

“After the evening prayer everyone [stays] at home until the call to prayer in the morning,” he said.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>