In pictures: Afghanistan from a time when Kabul had rock 'n' roll, not rockets

These scenes now exist only in the memories of those who've actually seen them
In pictures: Afghanistan from a time when Kabul had rock 'n' roll, not rockets
In pictures: Afghanistan from a time when Kabul had rock 'n' roll, not rockets
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Most recently, Afghanistan made the news over the brutal killing of Farkhunda, a woman accused of burning a copy of the Quran.

The south-central Asian country has been wrecked by invasions and then internal conflict in the last few decades. But these recent conflicts have their roots in what has been called “The Great Game” between imperial Russia and imperial Britain, which competed for influence in Asia in the 19th century.

In the 1980s, Russia intervened militarily in the 1980s, and according to some American scholars, the United States created and supported the Taliban as a force to counter the then Soviet Union. 

Soon the situation deteriorated into internal conflict with many groups and factions fighting one another. The attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 attracted the military attention of the United States said that the country was harbouring Osama Bin Laden, who was held responsible for the attacks on the twin towers and the deaths of around 3,000 people.

Since then, Afghanistan has been generally only been in the news for conflict, war, brutality and the Taliban, and is known to the world as a culturally conservative society. A group on Facebook, however, called Afghanistan is Beautiful, seeks to counter the impression that Afghan society was always “conservative” and “fundamentalist” on account of the faith (Islam) of most of its people. 

Photographs uploaded by the group on the page from the 1950s, show an Afghanistan that is unrecognizable today: people studying at Kabul University, going to the cinema, school children, children and their parents in a park, women and men in political demonstrations, people boarding in a bus, and practically no sign of a hijab or burqa. Photos selected here are mostly about people going about their daily lives. There are several showing the architecture and other aspects of city live. Photos and their descriptions have been reproduced here with the permission of the Facebook group:

Kabul University students changing classes. The physical campus of Kabul University, pictured here, does not look very different today. But the people do. In the 1950s and 60s, students wore Western-style clothing; young men and women interacted relatively freely. Today, women cover their heads and much of their bodies, even in Kabul. A half-century later, men and women inhabit much more separate worlds.

Biology class, Kabul University. In the 1950s and 60s, women were able to pursue professional careers in fields such as medicine. Today, schools that educate women are a target for violence, even more so than five or six years ago.

Student nurses at Maternity Hospital, Kabul. Education was valued and viewed as the great equalizer. If you went to school and achieved good grades, you'd have the chance to enter college, maybe study abroad, be part of the middle class, and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. Education was a hallowed value. Today, I think people have become far more cynical. They do not see the link between education and a better life; they see instead that those who have accumulated wealth and power have not done so through legitimate means.

Most hospitals give extensive post-natal care to young mothers. This infant ward in a Kabul hospital in the 1960s contrasts sharply with one in 2004 in Mazar-e-Sharif. There I found two babies born prematurely sharing the same incubator. That hospital, like many in Afghanistan today, did not have enough equipment.

Hundreds of Afghan youngsters take active part in Scout programs. Afghanistan once had Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In the 1950s and '60s, such programs were very similar to their counterparts in the United States, with students in elementary and middle schools learning about nature trails, camping, and public safety. - with Janat Mir.

Park Cinema, like many others, provides the needed entertainment. This movie theater was located at the centeral park of Kabul, and you could even see Hollywood movies there. (such as: Spartacus, The FBI Story, and The Dirty Dozen...) - with Janat Mir.

Mothers and children at a city playground. A playground a few hundred yards away from the theater, where mothers used to take their children to play. Now, only men loiter in the city parks; it is unsafe to bring children outside. - with Janat Mir.

Kabul is served by an up-to-date transportation system. Compared with the 1950s and '60s, fewer women work outside the home, and their outfits are much more conservative than what you see here. - with Janat Mir.

Textile store window display. Clothing boutiques like these were a familiar feature in Kabul during my childhood. - with Janat Mir.

Phonograph record store. So, too, were record stores, bringing the rhythm and energy of the Western world to Kabul teenagers. Record stores, Mad Men furniture, and pencil skirts - when Kabul had rock 'n' roll, not rockets - with Janat Mir.

The first group of Afghan girls who were sent abroad for study by Shah Amanullah in 1929. When Habibullah Kalakani came to power, all were returned to Afghanistan before they could complete their studies. - with Janat Mir.

Group of Afghan girls in a pro-Khaliqi demo in Kabul. - with Haroon Rohani.

(This aritcle was first published on The News Minute on March 27, 2015)

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