KABUL -- At around midnight on July 1, I was startled awake as the sound heavy gunfire ripped through the silence of Kabul's normally quiet Vazir Akbar Khan neighborhood. My housemates and I rushed out to see what had happened, only to be told by our pajama-clad neighbors that someone armed with a Kalashnikov had been chasing and shooting at a car as it sped out of the neighborhood.
"They are 'ekhtetafchian,'" my neighbor whispered to me in Dari as we stood outside, transfixed in shock. "Kidnappers."
In Kabul, residents fear two things equally. They are afraid of the Taliban and suicide bombers, and they are afraid of kidnappers.
The threat of kidnapping in Afghanistan has been extremely profitable for private security firms in the country and miserable for Afghans who are wealthy enough to live in 'safe' neighborhoods such as Vazir Akbar Khan. Kabul's current security situation is just one reflection of Afghanistan's dismal security situation. It is now glaringly clear that the national Afghan police won't be able to provide security in the near future -- not next year, and not even a few years from now.
The old Vazir Akbar Khan neighborhood is one of the few areas of Kabul that managed to escape the large-scale damage wrought by decades of political upheaval, violence and civil conflict. Built when Zaher Shah, Afghanistan's last monarch, was still in power, Vazir Akbar Khan -- literally "Minister Mr. Akbar" -- was originally built for Kabul's wealthy, educated classes. Today, the neighborhood has some of the few gardens that can still be found in Kabul, and is peppered with western-style villas that are inhabited by old Afghan families or rented to foreigners. The stark presence of foreign embassies, various NGO headquarters and foreign media in Vazir Akbar Khan gave a sense of safety and stability to the neighborhood that made it akin to a 'Green Zone' in Afghanistan.
But every morning, I see my neighbor drive to work in a bulletproof car flanked by a pickup truck full of armed men wearing flak jackets. He pays a security firm $500 a month for each of the private guards. Each month, the firm pays each guard, who is licensed to shoot if his client is in danger, around $250. Shir Pour, another newer, wealthy neighborhood built just a few years ago, has adapted to the tough security situation. Each building in the heavily-guarded neighborhood, which houses many newly wealthy former warlords and drug dealers, has (security) barcodes in the front.
This chaotic situation serves the interests of corrupt people inside the government and their partners in the business sector, but there is now a strong feeling that with General Stanley McChrystal's departure will come the advent of a new US policy in Afghanistan.
As General David Petraeus has predicted, everyone expects a very tough summer in Afghanistan. If Karzai's policy of making deals with insurgents and pursuing peace must shift to one that more intensely fights the Taliban, then the US may soon be pitted against the Afghan president. Is it possible that after nine years of the war on terror in Afghanistan, the US will finally become tougher on the Afghan president?