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.
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.
Girls and boys in western-style universities and schools were encouraged to talk to each other freely.
... 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.
Following World War II -- which Afghanistan managed to stay out of -- the Soviets and Americans competed for rights to build Afghan roadways.
Kabul's classic architecture was maintained, giving the city a firm aesthetic and sense of identity.
Women weren't required to wear burqas -- Afghanistan wasn't quite as conservative back then. But some would still cover up by choice.
There were movie theatres, libraries, chemistry labs, and on the outskirts of Kabul, large factories churning out a variety products.
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.
... 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.
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