Astonishing pictures of Afghanistan from before its decades of war

In 2016, the US marked 15 years of military activity in Afghanistan.

And despite over a decades worth of US and NATO military assistance, the country remains deeply troubled with a resurgent Taliban, a highly suspect military, and an economy where the opium industry remains the largest single employer. But before the US invasion, before the Russian war, and before the country’s Marxist experiment, Afghanistan used to be a far different place.

An astonishing collection of photos from the 1960s came to light in early 2013.

In the 60s, amateur photographer and college professor Dr. William Podlich took a leave of absence from his job at Arizona State University to work with UNESCO in the Afghan capital of Kabul, bringing his wife and daughters with him.

Later, his son-in-law Clayton Esterson found the late doctor’s photos and put them on the web. The response was amazing.

Esterson told the Denver Post: “Many Afghans have written comments [on our website] showing their appreciation for the photographs that show what their country was like before 33 years of war. This makes the effort to digitize and restore these photographs worthwhile.”

An earlier version of this article was produced by Geoffrey Ingersoll.

On the left is a picture showing the photographer's daughter in a pleasant park. On the right is that same park 40 years later.

In the 60s, this blonde attracted looks in a still very conservative Afghanistan.

But many people also wore nice western clothes in the 60s, too.

Afghanistan had a modern military thanks to reforms by King Amanullah Khan in the 1920s.

A new car drives through a freshly-built mountain tunnel ...

... and another stops at a gas station.

Girls and boys in western-style universities and schools were encouraged to talk to each other freely.

Newly-paved streets were flooded with new cars.

There was also a Girl and Boy Scouts of Afghanistan.

The country was undergoing a process of modernisation ...

... but much of Afghan culture retained its traditional dress and style. Even in Kabul, the bazaars remained the same as they had in earlier decades.

Here's a more traditional stall ...

... and a typical street scene.

Following World War II -- which Afghanistan managed to stay out of -- the Soviets and Americans competed for rights to build Afghan roadways.

Unlike today, roads in 1960s Afghanistan were well-kept and generally free of wear and tear.

Kids grew up in a safe environment, free of extremist influence, compared to today.

The villages didn't look too much different back then ...

... although new construction was everywhere.

Signs of prosperity dotted the urban landscape, showing off the country's upper class.

The group of American schools in Afghanistan shows just how stable the country was once considered.

An official vehicle plies the streets.

Fruit markets stayed largely the same and became a staple of Afghan culture.

... as did fabric markets ...

... and glassware.

Kabul's classic architecture was maintained, giving the city a firm aesthetic and sense of identity.

Here's another example of the city's distinctive style.

Even so, there was much western influence in the newer homes and businesses.

Crowded lorries and trucks are still a common scene in the country.

A view of the mountains outside of Kabul in winter.

Women weren't required to wear burqas -- Afghanistan wasn't quite as conservative back then. But some would still cover up by choice.

A traditional-style archway.

Elementary education, even out in the rural areas, was standard.

There was a widespread sense that opportunities hinged on education.

Children would learn in outside classrooms if they had to.

... although new buildings were always under construction.

Nationalism grew, as people identified with Afghanistan rather than with tribes.

There were movie theatres, libraries, chemistry labs, and on the outskirts of Kabul, large factories churning out a variety products.

Some historical buildings were in an excellent state of preservation.

People gathered in the streets for religious or cultural events without fear.

But while urban Afghanistan became modern, rural Afghanistan was still much as it had been decades before.

Afghanistan had a national identity, and a distinct national style, despite all the newfangled 'western' influence.

Yes, both rural and urban, Western and South Asian, it seemed all of Afghanistan ...

... was on the road to prosperity. The wars were in the future -- but they weren't very far off. When the Soviets invaded less than two decades later, it would hasten Afghanistan's path towards becoming a very different country.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.