Once upon a time in Afghanistan

‘Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages. But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth.

‘Remembering Afghanistan’s hopeful past only makes its present misery seem more tragic. But it is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable. I want to show Afghanistan’s youth of today how their parents and grandparents really lived.’

- Mohammad Qayoumi

"A laboratory at the Vaccine Research Center."

"A villager welcomes visiting nurses to his compound."

"Biology class, Kabul University."

"Cabinet in session."

"Central control panel at Radio Kabul transmitter. Transmitter can be heard as far distant as South Africa and Indonesia."

"Fresh fruit bazaar."

"Furniture display room."

"Gulbahar Textile Plant is one of the most modern in Asia."

"Hundreds of Afghan youngsters take active part in Scout programs."

"In the absence of dependable international peace, national defense plays an important role in the affairs of the nation."

"Infant ward at feeding time."

"Kabul is served by an up-to-date transportation system."

"Kabul University students changing classes. Enrollment has doubled in last four years."

"Most hospitals give extensive post-natal care to young mothers."

"Mothers and children at a city playground."

"Park Cinema, like many others, provides the needed entertainment."

"Recording room pre-records many interviews, special service programs for delayed broadcast."

"Sarobi hydro-power plant on Kabul River is one of the country's foremost power stations."

"Skilled workers like these press operators are building new standards for themselves and their country."

"Student nurses at Maternity Hospital, Kabul."

"Textile store window display."

Thank you to Eric Stephan and Mohammad Rahim.

12 comments to Once upon a time in Afghanistan

  • Jon Taylor

    Fascinating blog…http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/adamcurtis/afghanistan/

  • Buzz

    I wonder, and this will sound racist but it’s because I don’t know the history of Afghanistan during this period represented, who was in control of the nation at the time? Also really radical Islamic “fundementalism” as it’s known today is credited to have come out of Egypt in the mid 50′s. That looks to be about the period these photos were taken. It is very sad because we in the west prefer our luxury. It is also sad because no country or area should abuse any gender and recind rights out of misguided efforts at purity. Again, not intended to offend, just some thoughts and questions.

  • Catherine Jones

    Oh boy has that country been screwed up. I can’t believe the Afghanis did it on their own so who should we blame? The US, the USSR, UK, oil companies? You can bet that those responsible aren’t going to come forward

  • Kabul In the 1950s | ninme

    [...] pictures, and a sweet statement of purpose, at the link. Date: Oct 11th, 2010 · Comments RSS · Tags: [...]

  • J. Whittaker

    Afganistan certainly seemed to be on the right path in the 1950s. So sad what’s become of them since.

  • Michael Stevens

    Like Iran, Egypt, Syria, & Turkey, these countries all made a very deliberate effort to Westernise and thus become “modern” - but I’d put money on nearly all the people in these phots coming from the tiny middle or upper classes - they simply didn’t carry the peasants with them.

  • Enygma

    @Catherine Jones, answer; All of the above…

    Odd coincidence, Iraq and Iran also had the earliest democratic/parliamentary systems in the region. Again, “all of the above” got involved and… ok, maybe it’s not such a coincidence.

    Hard to make it “out of the middle ages” if you keep getting carpet bombed back into it.

  • Hazza

    Even the commenters are afraid of being labelled racist!
    Why fear the truth? The problem IS the interpretation of the Quran, seems that each ‘mad mullah’ has his own version.
    If none followed these teachings there would be no problem.
    The solution would be in rewriting the misunderstood words to emphasise the EXACT meaning

  • L


    Sorry to say this, but your attitude is a text book example of the mindset that allows groups like the Taliban to prosper. The West is now far more concerned with appearing tolerant, accepting, and non-racist than it is about women’s rights. We walk on egg shells and accept all cultural practices as being valid when they clearly aren’t. Here’s two as an example: genital mutilation and the banning of women from education. When we as a society begin to entertain these practices as in any way defensible because they are “part of the culture” or “part of the religion” then we might as well curl up and die.

  • Greg Sims L/Cpl 1967-1969

    These pics could be any western country…what happend? In 50 years, it appears as though, the country digressed back 1500 years. It would seem as though the Taliban types have set this country in a counter clockwise, rotation

  • Oh whatever

    Yeah blame the fact that girls there are not allowed to go to school on “carpet bombing” blame the opium producing warlords there on “carpet bombing”. No, it’s the Taliban that has set this country back 1500 years!

  • Token

    The country…or the city? There are lots of countries in the world whose capitals look very modern and progressive…but where time steps back centuries once you drive out past the reach of city lights. I’d be interested in seeing 60-year-old pictures of the Afgan countryside to see how modern and enlightened it appeared to be…

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