Life in 1960s Afghanistan Before Terrorism

Andrei Tapalaga

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A collage of photos taken by Dr. Bill Podlich on his trip to Afghanistan in 1967Dr. Bill Podlich

For us people from the western world, when we hear “Afghanistan” we can only think of a very deprived country that for the last 50 years has seen nothing else but war. Believe it or not, Afghanistan was once at the standards of some Western countries during the 60s and life was actually wonderful, as described by Dr. Bill William Podlich.

A country of War?

Right now as we all know, Afghanistan ended up being ruled by the Taliban, a modern terrorist organization made up of Islamic extremists that now run the country using fear and religious believes, taking away the human rights of the citizens of Afghanistan completely.

Saying that this country has been in a constant war is a wrong assumption. Yes, according to history the lands of Afghanistan have seen nothing but war for centuries, but in the 20th century, it wasn’t Afghanistan that inflicted war. What started the Taliban or modern terrorism within Afghanistan is a very debated argument. Some say it was the Soviet Union in the 80s whilst others argue it was the involvement of the United States.

From the research that I have done as a historian on this topic, I believe that it was mostly at the fault of the United States government during the late period of the Cold War. It is said that when the Soviet Union first invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was for their own benefit to take the oil and other valuable resources found on the land. This could have been a case, but I also believe that they went there to stop the Mujahideen, they were the first terrorist group within Afghanistan also fighting against Afghanistan’s Democratic Government.

The Mujahideen themselves weren't as extreme as the later Taliban, but they still followed the same extreme Islamic ideology. Now you tell me, why would the Soviet Union want to invade a country in which it had invested to build infrastructure during the 1960s?

During the Soviet offensive against the Mujahideen, the United States saw a window of opportunity where they were able to wind down the armed forces of their biggest enemy. Why have a direct war with your enemy when you can ally with the enemy of your enemy? In other words, give weapons to terrorists in order to cripple the Soviet Union. The United States never knew that the terrorist movement within Afghanistan would grow to bite them back, but that is a different story.

Afghanistan before Terrorism

From 1954 until 1978, Afghanistan received over $1 billion in aid from the Soviet Union in order for the government to invest in its economy and infrastructure. The goal was to not only create relations with this nation but also to give the people of Afghanistan a better quality of life. Whilst the world started the 20th century with all-out wars, Afghanistan remained neutral for the most part, focusing on developing its country and bringing it to the 20th century. I must also mention that the U.S. also helped aid the Afghan Economy with around $165 million.

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Students at the Higher Teachers College of Kabul, where Dr. Podlich taught for two years with UNESCODr. Bill Podlich

The country was trying to be more liberal and the citizens were trying to live life in a more western lifestyle. Up to that point, the country was following a strict lifestyle based on their Islamic culture, but with the new democratic government, things changed for the better. The word “education” was given a high priority, not only by the government but by the citizens of Afghanistan.

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Afghan girls coming home from school, 1967Dr. Bill Podlich

This was a time where girls and women within Afghanistan were treated with equality and had the freedom to dress the way they wanted as well as the right to education. Today, if a woman isn’t dressed right or is caught self-educating she may end up being shot. The country really opened it’s eyes and came out of that closed box mentality, allowing people to chose the way they want to live their lives and most importantly chose what they want to do in life.

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A group of young Afghans share tea and listen to musicDr. Bill Podlich

This does not mean that the values of the Islamic culture were forgotten or not respected. They were actually used as a touristic advantage to attract people to the beautiful country that is Afghanistan. Besides all the war, there are some truly incredible sights that are unique in the world, just as presented by a picture with Dr. Bill Podlich. If it wasn’t for Bill Podlich and the UNESCO program in which he enrolled, the world would not be able to see these pictures portraying Afghanistan in its most beautiful state.

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Afghan women getting ready to travel on one of the first flights in Kabul airportPinterest

Afghanistan was going through a major modernization process during the 1960s and the people surely adapted quickly, especially women to the western lifestyle. The economy of the country was at an all-time high, with very low rates of unemployment and the highest rates of education seen around the Eastern world at the time.

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Young students dancing to music on a school playgroundDr. Bill Podlich

Education for us is a basic need, but for children back in the 1960s was seen as a luxury that they were happy to be given. Most children were eager to go to school and learn. In some more remote zones of Afghanistan, the infrastructure wasn’t yet built, but this didn’t stop teachers from giving every child a chance to education.

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Hotel Intercontinental. The hotel has been attacked on and off since Soviet forces left in 1992, most recently by suicide bombers in 2011Dr. Bill Podlich

As you can see most predominantly in Kabul, the Soviets really aided Afghanistan and the Soviet architecture really shows it. They helped build schools, hospitals, hotels, airports, and many communist types of apartment blocks. Such infrastructure did not only make the citizens happier but also improved the economy by giving the people of Afghanistan more jobs.

Not everyone likes change

With so many changes from their classic Islamic lifestyle to this Western way of living, some people were frustrated, so much so that they created an organized terrorist group and started making their own law. The Mujahideen believed in their set Islamic ways of living since ancient times and didn’t allow for the changes that the future came with to replace their philosophy.

It was in the late 1970s that these Islamic extremists started revolting against the changes that occurred in Afghanistan and in 1978 when the first people were killed by the Mujahideen. Since then, Afghanistan had never been the same. All the beautiful things have been destroyed by the ongoing war that doesn't seem to have an end.

Will it ever return to its beauty from the 1960s? That is something only time can tell.

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