When Afghanistan comes to mind, people generally think of terrorism and war. The images they think of are dusty, war-torn cities with destroyed buildings.
But there was a time when this nation was the epitome of peace. And even today you can still find beauty in the country. These photos show what the nation looked like in the past and what it can look like today.
Different from what you would think
We have compiled the best of images that will contrast the images that pop into your mind when you think of Afghanistan. Whether from the 60s or from travelers who have traveled to the country with their cameras.
Enjoy taking a look at the world Afghanistan used to be and how it can still be if you look closely.
Frédéric Gadmer, a French photographer, went to Afghanistan in 1928 and it was only recently that the photos he took were discovered. Albert Kahn sent him there as part of the project The Archives of the Planet. These photos show a rare world by today’s standards.
In total, the photos of the project are around 72,000 from all parts of the world and are kept in the Albert Kahn Museum in Paris. Afghanistan looked like this in the 1920s.
In this photo a goldsmith works in Kabul. It sits in a courtyard and symbolizes the happiness of Afghanistan in the 1920s.
Thanks to Frédéric Gadmer, his picture was captured for eternity in his project in the late 1920s. The photos show that Afghanistan was stable at the beginning of the 20th century.
In the 1920s, Afghanistan had just gained independence from the British Empire. Amanullah Khan was in charge of the country for nearly a decade. He was a reformist who wanted to take his country and modernize it.
These photos give an important glimpse into the religion of the country and how it became more modern, which attracted the attention of western investment.
The gift of the Aman Palace
This photo shows the Darul Aman Palace in 1928. The beautiful architecture shows the development of the capital. The city is Darulaman and should occupy about 16 miles from Kabal.
The well-tended gardens and the beautiful brickwork convey an idyllic feeling with the mountains in the background. But it wouldn’t last.
After a change of power, the capital would never be completed and the dreams of becoming a beacon of prosperity vanished.
The conflicts that started in the 1980s would create her new bulletproof look. In 2002 it had become a symbol of anarchy rather than prosperity. What about the fashion?
In 1972 the Cabal nation was considered free and independent. The economy was stable, as was their government.
During this period, people wore the new fashion trends with grace. The fashionable hairstyles of the time were everywhere and they began to adopt these trends well before other European countries. Amanullah Khan had created laws that increased women’s rights.
Paris of Central Asia
The city of Kabal was sometimes referred to as the Paris of Central Asia in the 1960s. A third of women living in Kabal wore more fashionable outfits from Western culture, while others preferred more traditional looks.
Tourism thrived in the beautiful and mysterious country. Soon the hippie movement saw what Afghans were wearing, and soon their clothing became a major export item. The pictures show when Afghanistan was a major competitor worldwide.
Soraya Tarzi was the daughter of Sardian Mahmud Tarzi, who had liberal ideologies. She was a great example of liberated women who lived in the 1920s. She fought for women’s rights and told them to wear what they want.
She was involved in Afghanistan’s first magazine exclusively for women. It was called Erhad-i-Niswan and it told women not to be afraid of an education. But unfortunately it would be like that for a long time.
When British newspapers published photos of Soraya without the veil and dined with men – not to mention foreign men – the popular Habibullāh Kalakāni did not benefit and led a riot that forced Soraya and her husband to flee to India.
He immediately closed schools for women and all Western educational centers, and the burkah became compulsory. However, his reign proved short and corrupt. Soraya Tazir died in Rome in 1968.
In this picture, Mr. and Mrs. Girard, who were the directors of the agricultural school in Kabul, pose in front of the camera.
While the Pashtun dress was traditionally the most popular form of clothing in Afghanistan, with the firaq partug, consisting of chador or scarf, firaq or skirt and partug, some western clothing modes have crept in over 100 years.
On his first assignment to the country in 1979, Steve McCurry ventured behind the scenes and took great risks, including donning Afghan robes to be smuggled across the border from Pakistan.
And despite the atrocities that have swept the land, McCurry can find beauty in it too, both in the land and in the people who inhabit it. There he produced his most iconic photo.
Steve McCurry was in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan in December 1984 when he came across a girl in a makeshift classroom.
“I noticed this one little girl with those incredible eyes and knew immediately that this was really the only picture I wanted to take,” he revealed. The photo he took became one of the most popular images ever on the front page of National Geographic!
In 2019 Matthew Karsten traveled to Afghanistan. He wanted to experience the positive side of Afghanistan and its wonderful people up close.
When he was there, he took pictures of children. Although there are some schools in Afghanistan thanks to the Central Asia Institute, it is ultimately up to the parents whether they go. In some communities only the boys are sent to school, and the morning commute often consists of riding a donkey.
Matthew Karsten also took a picture of a school in Afghanistan. This simple 3-room school in the remote Afghan village of Bozai Gumbaz was built by Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute.
While he was at school, Matthew spent the night playing cards with Afghan army soldiers. The next morning a group of boys on donkeys showed up for class!
The many faces of Islam
Just like in Christianity, there are different branches of Islam, each with their own values and beliefs. Many people in the Afghan Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims who practice a moderate form of Islam. There are 25 million worldwide and they despise the Taliban.
Its spiritual leader is the Aga Khan, a successful British businessman and Imam who runs the Aga Khan Development Network, a vitally important charity that improves living conditions and opportunities for the poor in Africa and Central Asia.
Getting a ride from a yak
In Afghanistan, Matthew traveled on foot with his backpack. However, after an arduous journey, he managed to take a break by hitching a ride on a yak! He met a group of Wakhi men leading their yaks through the mountains and while they stopped for lunch they let Matthew borrow their yaks, which continued down the valley until their owners later caught up with them.
Yaks are the ultimate eco-friendly 4 × 4 in Afghanistan, capable of climbing steep rocky terrain and power through freezing cold rivers. There are no trees over 10,000 feet, so locals must hike their animals to lower elevations for 3 days to collect firewood for cooking and warmth.
By far the most surprising pictures come from the 1920s to 1930s. They also reveal the beauty of the country from its period of independence under sovereign rule in 1919, which would prevail until the late 1960s.
In this picture, a group of camel herders take a break while traveling through a desert in southern Afghanistan in 1928. These pictures show a quieter time in Afghanistan’s history.
The other side
So there you have it. A look at Afghanistan and the other side of Afghanistan today that we never see on the nightly news.
We shouldn’t allow our media, which mainly focuses on negative and sensational topics, to be our only window into the dynamics of a foreign country we’ve never been to!