When you think of Afghanistan, you probably don’t think of short skirts, nice cars, and liberal lifestyles. Still, just as Iran looked very different in the 1970s, these fascinating pictures show that Afghanistan in the 1960s was a very different country from the one that exists today.
The pictures were taken by American university professor Dr. Bill Podlich, who in 1967 took a two-year leave of absence to work for UNESCO in Afghanistan. He served as the Expert on Principles of Education at the Higher Teachers College in Kabul, and during this time, he took many photographs of life as it was back then. The Soviets invaded only a decade later, and Afghanistan was pulled into war; following Taliban rule and the U.S. invasion in 2001, the country now bears little resemblance to the peaceful and prosperous nation you can see in the pictures below.
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01. Young Photographer At Paghman Gardens
Fun in the sun: Jan (left) and Peg (right) Podlich at Paghman Gardens, which was destroyed during the years of war before the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
02. Students At The Higher Teachers College Of Kabul
Hard at work: Students at the Higher Teachers College of Kabul, where Dr. Podlich, the photographer, worked and taught for two years with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation.
04. Education Under The Trees
05. Afghan High School Girls
Friends: Pictured are Afghan girls coming home from school. The girls and boys were educated up to the high school level, and although both sexes wore uniforms, the girls were not allowed to wear a chadri on their way to secondary school. Able young women attended college, as did the men.
06. Kindergarten Dance
Playtime: Young students in blue uniforms can be seen dancing to music in a school playground
07. Bus Trip
Journeying: Peg Podlich, in the sunglasses, taking a family trip on a bus from Kabul to Peshawar in Pakistan
08. Big Sister
Family bond: Two colorful sisters, hand in hand, pose for a photograph in Kabul, surrounded by trading locals
09. Decorating Cakes
Tasty feast: A smiling Afghan boy is pictured decorating mounds of different cakes piled high on plates
10. Rush Hour
11. Afghan Hound
12. Sharing Tea & Music
Picnic In Afghanistan shows a group of young Afghans sharing tea and music in their free time
© Dr. Bill Podlich
While he was teaching, Podlich’s daughters attended classes at the American International School of Kabul, which had several American and international students with parents who lived and worked in the country.
Dr. Podlich’s daughter Peg states these images are vital in her eyes.’ When I look at my dad’s photos, I remember Afghanistan as a country with thousands of years of history and culture,’ Peg Podlich told the Denver Post.
‘It has been a gut-wrenching experience to watch and hear about the profound suffering which has occurred in Afghanistan during the battles of war for nearly 40 years. Terrible forces have beaten down fierce and proud yet fun-loving people.
‘The incredible collection is now managed by Peg’s husband Clayton Esterson, who immediately recognized the historical significance of the pictures.’ Many Afghans have written comments [on the website] showing their appreciation for the photographs that show what their country was like before 33 years of war,’ he said.
13. Blonde & Afghans
Taking in the view: A blonde Peg Podlich pictured in Kabul, shortly after arriving, as locals walk past
Timeline of Events in Afghanistan
1996: Taliban seize control of Kabul, prohibiting women from work and introducing Islamic punishments such as stoning to death and amputations.
1997: Taliban was recognized as legitimate rulers by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They now control about two-thirds of the country.
October 7, 2001: President George W. Bush announces that U.S. and British troops have begun striking Afghanistan for harboring the al-Qaeda terrorists blamed for the September 11 attacks.
December 2002: The U.S. ends with about 9,700 troops deployed, mostly going after Taliban insurgents.
May 2011: Bin Laden is found hiding in neighboring Pakistan and killed in a U.S. special operations raid. There are still about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.
June 2011: Saying the U.S. is meeting its goals in Afghanistan, Obama announces his withdrawal plan: Bring home 10,000 troops by the end of 2011.
May 2014: Obama announces his plan to pull virtually all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016 when his second term in office will draw close.
October 15, 2015: In a reversal, Obama says the situation is too fragile for the American military to leave. He announces plans to keep the current force of about 9,800 in place through most of next year to continue counter-terrorism missions and advise Afghans battling a resurgent Taliban. The goal was to decrease to some 5,500 soldiers in 2017.
14. Hanging Out At The American International School Of Kabul (aisk)
A class at the American International School of Kabul where Peg and Jan attended. After class, the girls were supervised by Indian ladies wearing saris and were driven with about 20 students back through Kabul
15. Shopping For Scarves
Shopping trip: One of Dr. Podlich’s daughters, Jan, smiles during a trip to Istalif, a village 18 miles northwest of Kabul
16. Frying Up Dessert
Cooking: A smiling man is pictured frying Jilabee, a sweet dessert, on an outdoor fire, with children gathered around
17. Aisk Parking Lot
A car park of the American International School of Kabul, which the Podlich girls attended. The school no longer exists, although alums stay in touch through Facebook and hold reunions every few years in different cities around the U.S.
18. Kabul Gorge
19. Bus Driver
As well as building a relationship with the Afghans he encountered, the amateur photographer set out to document their way of life.
20. Salang Pass Tunnel
The Salang Tunnel, located in Parwan province, is a link between northern and southern Afghanistan, crossing the Hindu Kush mountain range under the rugged Salang Pass. The Soviet-built tunnel opened in 1964.
21. Friendly Crowd
22. Art Show
23. Under The Trees
24. Bamiyan Valley
Using his Kodachrome film, his images show a peaceful Afghanistan’s strides towards a more liberal and Westernised lifestyle – a stark contrast to harrowing sights seen during the Taliban regime.
25. Afternoon Prayers
26. Outdoor Class
27. Fruit & Veggies
28. Gas Station
Topping up: Men stand next to their parked vehicles in a petrol station, with the rolling landscape visible behind them in the distance
29. Afternoon Shade
Peaceful: Men relax in the shade overlooking Istalif, a centuries-old center for pottery located northwest of Kabul
Stunning setting: A captivating residential hillside in Kabul is adorned by brightly colored trees and foliage
32. Balloon Boy
33. Annual Exhibition Of Student Artwork
35. Skinny Tie
Pictured is an Afghan teacher. The Higher Teachers’ College was a two-year institution for training college-level teachers.
36. Detail On Arch
37. Hotel Inter-continental
38. Shave And A Haircut
39. Indoor Class
40. All Dressed Up
41. Walking Home
Not a bad commute: Young Afghans walking home with spectacular scenery visible in the distance
42. Sight Seeing
The idyllic images were captured in 1967 when the teacher (pictured) teamed up with Unesco to work in the Higher Teachers College of Kabul
43. Dr. Podlich & The Afghans
44. Kabul International
45. People & Ducks
47. Military Band
All lined up: An Afghan military band stands wearing matching brown uniforms, surrounded by colored flags
48. Bamiyan Buddha Statue
A Buddha statue in Bamiyan Valley- a Unesco World Heritage Site. The Taliban destroyed the two most giant statues (not pictured here) in 2001
49. Fully Loaded
50. Shopping For Canned Goods
51. The Dance
52. Masked Parade
53. Main Street
Picturesque: Pictured is Masjid Shah-e-do Shamsheera in Kabul, which is a yellow two-story mosque in the center of the city
54. Swimming In The Kabul River
Splashing around: Men and boys playing, washing, and swimming in the waters of the Kabul river
55. Algebra & Mud
Time to study: A chemistry lesson in full flow in a mud-walled classroom, with a small board covered in equations
56. Portable Grand Stand
Hanging out: Hoards of happy citizens gather on large trucks, which serve as portable grandstands
57. Apartments & Stores
58. School’s Out
60. Guard Duty
Unlike existing roads in Afghanistan, roads in the 60s were well kept and generally free of wear and tear.
Striking: One of the places that the family saw during their two-year stay was King’s Hill in Paghman Garden, pictured here in the sunshine
62. Road Work
Working hard: Afghan workers make a street repair in Kabul but still have time to smile for the camera
63. Cookin’ Kababs
64. New Years Celebration
65. The Demonstration
66. Afghan Army
An Afghan Army parade through Kabul with spectators lining the streets and waving flags at the procession
67. Mosque (Masjid) In The Center Of Kabul
68. Deh Mazang Square – Kabul
69. While Urban Afghanistan Became Modern, Rural Afghanistan Contained These Quaint Scenes.
70. Following World War II, Which Afghanistan Stayed Out Of, The Soviets And Americans Competed For Rights To Build Afghan Roadways.
… was on the road to prosperity … until the wars began …
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