I have been living a low key life here in Kabul; being driven in a normal saloon car; not walking on the street; not really going out at night. I’m not under any illusions that I am really living like an Afghan, but I’ve been spending more time with Afghans than with westerners.

But I have also been invited into the ‘western zone’ – I’ve visited two embassy compounds and one of the main military camps here.

There is no doubt it’s tough living in Kabul – even if you are a cosseted visitor like me, living in a luxourious clean house, being cooked for and driven around. The air quality is abysmal and it has definitely got worse since I was last here. The years of drought meant soil erosion has affected much of the country so the air is always full of dust. During the civil war and Taliban time, people were so desperate for fuel, many of the trees in Kabul were cut down. And now there has been a huge jump in the number of vehicles on the road – up to 650,000 according to some estimates, many of them old and badly maintained. I’d been here just three days when my nose started bleeding.

The commute home, Kabul style

The water is still not safe to drink – or clean your teeth in – and eating local food is a game of Russian roulette – partly because of the water, partly because animals are slaughtered on the side of the road and then their carcasses hung up in non-frigerated shops to be sold, at the mercy of the heat, the flies and the dust. And as there is no real sewerage system, the dust is not just mud…

It’s still hard to find reliable statistics on Afghanistan but some estimates put 70 pc of the country, some 25 million people, living in poverty. Many of them will be in the rural areas, but the average national income per capita is just $410 a year – that’s about 256 quid – a year!

 And yet, it is expensive to live in Kabul. Rents can be astronomical – £300 a month for a flat; medical care is hard to come by and expensive; while the new private universities which have sprung up everywhere cost up $6000 a year to study at.

The new smart living in Kabul

But, go behind the ever increasing walls of the western zone and it’s a very different story. The food is flown in, so no chance of the Kabul Kraps for these people; the military hospitals are on hand if something does happen; and the air conditioning and plush furniture mean these buildings are literally a home from home.

It’s different again for those living on the military camps of course. There a woefully small container can be home to two men, for a year at a time. But they still have uninterrupted electricity, unlimited wi-fi, a range of restaurants and shops, and medical facilities.

So what’s my point? Well if you have come from Europe or America, and are working here for months on end, it would be hard to expect you to live like an Afghan – not to mention dangerous. And a lot of the closeting of westerners is partly about security.

But the fact that Afghans do still have to live without many of the basics of life, is, I believe, part of the problem when it comes to security. In Kabul many Afghans are employed by the NGOs and western organisations – so even if they don’t live like those people, they are at least receiving some of the money they bring in.

But in places like Kandahar, that pay off simply doesn’t exist. There, people living in rural villages, with no electricity, only see the huge city that is Camp Bastion, with its clean water, electricity, safe food and medical facilities. The military has of course also spent millions on ‘hearts and minds’ projects in these areas, but not all have been successful.

But perhaps the strangest thing is what happens to your own perception of where you are, when you step foot inside these compounds. After passing through checkpoint after checkpoint, staffed by armed guards, whose English becomes better and better the further in you go, you start to feel as if you are indeed in a war zone.

And yet,  as I drive around the city in the back of my driver’s white Toyota saloon, waving to kids and nodding ‘salam’ to adults, I don’t feel in danger at all.

I’m not sure which feeling is the right one – but it adds to the fascination of being here.