When Afghanistan comes to mind, people generally think about terrorism and war. The images that they think of are dusty war-torn cities with destroyed buildings.
But there was a period 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 used to look like and what it can still look like today.
Different To What You’d Think
We’ve curated the best images that contrast the images that come to mind when you think of Afghanistan. Whether they’re from the 60s or from travelers who’ve headed into the country with their cameras.
Enjoy taking a look into the world that Afghanistan used to be, and how it can still be if you look hard enough.
Frédéric Gadmer, a French photographer, went to Afghanistan in 1928, and only recently were the photos he took discovered. Albert Kahn sent him there as part of The Archives of the Planet project. These photos show a rare world by today’s standards.
In total, the photos from the project are around 72,000 from every corner of the world and are kept at the Albert Kahn Museum in Paris. Afghanistan looked like this in the 1920s.
In this photo a goldsmith in Kabul is working his trade. He’s sitting in a courtyard and symbolises Afghanistan’s good fortune in the 1920s.
Thanks to Frédéric Gadmer his image had been captured for eternity in his project in the late 1920s. The photos show that in the early part of the 20th century, Afghanistan was stable.
In the 1920s Afghanistan had just gotten its independence from the British Empire. Amanullah Khan was in charge of the country for almost a decade. He was a reformist who wanted to take his country and modernize it.
These photos give an important insight into the country’s religion and how it was getting more modern, which caught the attention of western investment.
Darul Aman Palace
This photo shows the Darul Aman Palace in 1928. The beautiful architecture shows the development of the capital city. The city is Darulaman and was to take up around 16 miles of Kabal.
The tended gardens and beautiful stonework give an idyllic feeling with the mountains in the background. But it wouldn’t last.
After power changed, The capital would never be completed and the dreams of it becoming a beacon of prosperity faded away.
The conflicts that started in the 1980s would create its new bullet-ridden look. In 2002 it had become more of a symbol of anarchy than prosperity. What about the fashion?
Rights Of Women
In 1972 Kabal, the nation was considered free and independent. The economy was stable and so was its governent.
In this time period, people wore the new fashion trends with grace. The fashionable hairstyles of the time were everywhere and they started adopting these trends way before other European countries. Amanullah Khan had created laws that elevated women’s rights.
Paris Of Central Asia
The city of Kabal was sometimes called the Paris of Central Asia by the ’60s. One-third of women living in Kabal rather wore the fashionable outfits of western culture while others preferred more traditional looks.
Tourism thrived in the beautiful and mysterious country. Soon the hippy movement saw what the Afghanistans were wearing and soon their clothing became a major export. The images show when Afghanistan was a major contender in global fashion.
Soraya Tarzi was the daughter of Sarder Mahmud Tarzi, who had liberal ideologies. She was a great example of liberated women living in the 1920s. She fought for women’s rights and told them they should wear what they want.
She was involved in Afghanistan’s first magazine to be solely for Women. It was called Erchad-I-Niswan and told women not to be afraid of getting an education. But unfortunately, things would be this way for long.
When British papers published photos of Soraya without a veil, dining with men — not to mention foreign men – the popular Habibullāh Kalakāni was having none of it and led an uprising – forcing Soraya and her husband to flee to India.
He immediately closed schools for women and all western education centers and the Burkah became compulsory. His reign turned out to be short and corrupt, however. Soraya Tazir passed away in Rome in 1968.
In this image, Mr. and Mrs. Girard, who were the directors of Kabul’s school of agriculture, strike a pose for the camera.
While the Pashtun dress has been traditionally the most popular form of clothing in Afghanistan, with the Firaq partug, comprising of the Chador or scarf, the Firaq or skirt, and the Partug, some western modes of dress have crept in and out over the past 100 years.
On his first assignment to the country in 1979, Steve McCurry ventured behind the lines, taking great risks, including dressing in Afghan robes in order to be smuggled across the border from Pakistan.
And despite the atrocities that have swept across the land, McCurry is able to find beauty in it too, both in the land and in the people that inhabit it. It was there that he produced his most iconic photograph.
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 these incredible eyes and I instantly knew that this was really the only picture I wanted to take,” he revealed. The photo he took went on to become one of the most popular images ever to grace the front 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 and personal.
When he was there he captured images of kids. While there are a few schools in Afghanistan, thanks to the Central Asia Institute, it’s ultimately up to the parents if 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 captured an image 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 the school, Matthew spent the night playing cards with Afghan army soldiers. The next morning a group of boys showed up on donkeys for class!
The Many Faces Of Islam
Just like in Christianity, there are different branches of Islam, all with their own values and beliefs. Many people living in Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor are Ismaili Muslims, who practice a moderate form of Islam. There are 25 million worldwide, and they despise the Taliban.
Their spiritual leader is the Aga Khan, a successful British businessman, and Imam who runs the Aga Khan Development Network, a super important charity organization that improves living conditions and opportunities for the poor in Africa and Central Asia.
Getting A Ride From A Yak
When in Afghanistan, Matthew traveled by foot armed with his backpack. However, after a tiresome journey, he managed to take a break by hitching a ride on a yak! He ran into a group of Wakhi men leading their yaks through the mountains, and while they stopped for lunch, they let Matthew borrows their yaks, which led further into the valley until their owners caught up with them later.
Yaks are the ultimate eco-friendly 4×4 in Afghanistan, able to climb steep rocky terrain and power through icy cold rivers. There are no trees above 10,000 feet, so locals are forced to trek for 3 days to lower elevations with their animals in order to gather firewood for cooking and warmth.
By far the most surprising images are the ones taken in from the 1920s to the 1930s. They also reveal the beauty of the country from around its time of independence under sovereign rule in 1919, which would prevail into the late 1960s.
In this image, a group of camel herders take a break while journeying through a desert in southern Afghanistan in 1928. These images depict a more serene time in Afghanistan’s history.
The Other Side
So there you have it. A peek at what Afghanistan used to be like and the other side of Afghanistan today, that we never see on the nightly news.
We shouldn’t let our media, which is primarily focused on negative and sensational topics, be our only window into the dynamics of a foreign country we’ve never been to!