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You never have to wander far from your front door in Kabul to be confronted by the dire poverty in a city where billions have been spent in foreign aid over the past decade of occupation by the west. Where an entire sub-economy has grown up around the semi-permanent presence of foreign NGOs. You will see the beggars somehow surviving in the middle of traffic-choked streets this city has some of the worst air-pollution on the planet pleading with their missing body parts , appealing for alms, mouthing words that can never be heard above the din of the traffic at a near standstill in the freezing crisp air.
Or the widows, invisible in their burkhas, who sit in the snow at the roadsides, holding babies swaddled , but still coughing in the sub-zero air, for hour after hour after hour. They too, hope for the odd Afghani from generous passers-by. Or get up early and go to the known places where they gather. Men, often hundreds of them, desperate for work of any kind for perhaps a dollar or two per day — maybe Afghanis in their pockets after 10 or 12 hours hard labour in sub-zero conditions.
No, change that. A house of several bedrooms. In her headscarf and jeans she is very westernised by Afghan standards. On several occasions Channel 4 News meets Habiba and films and talks to her, with her husband not present. Even meeting an Afghan woman at all in her home would be quite unthinkable in most parts of this country and most of this city too — let alone doing so with no husband in the room.
Habiba, in her late 20s, is a schoolteacher. Her husband, a civil-servant. Or at least they were. And then he took to drink. And he also took to beating Habiba up if she declined to do his bidding. By any standards in any society that bidding is extraordinary.
He has forced her to leave the classroom and become a prostitute. He, the husband, is now also the pimp. I think I am the worst person in the world. It is horrible. And what about my daughter? She cries uncontrollably. And you do not have to tell Habiba that in Afghanistan, if you leave your husband then you leave your children too and there will be no coming back and no safety net at all, financially. And your life and safety will be in real jeopardy. Habiba is trapped and Habiba knows it.