KABUL, AfghanistanAhmad 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.