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Life Before the Taliban: Fascinating Photos Show Short Skirts, Flash Cars and no Burkas Before Afghanistan Plunged Into Hell

These fascinating photographs from Afghanistan in the 1960s are a far cry from the war-torn images in the news today.
  • The collection was shot by university professor Dr. Bill Podlich from Arizona during a two-year stint with Unesco
  • The amateur photographer set out to document the serene way of life in Afghanistan featuring locals and scenery
  • Images include school pupils happily playing, a smiling boy decorating cakes, and people swimming in the river

The eye-opening collection was captured by university professor Dr Bill Podlich from Arizona, who swapped life in America to travel to Kabul with his wife, Margaret, and two teenage daughters, Jan and Peg.

Using his Kodachrome film, his images show a peaceful Afghanistan making strides towards a more liberal and Westernised lifestyle – a stark contrast to harrowing sights seen during Taliban regime.

Fun in the sun: Jan (left) and Peg (right) Podlich at Paghman Gardens, which was destroyed during the years of war before the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

Fun in the sun: Jan (left) and Peg (right) Podlich at Paghman Gardens, which was destroyed during the years of war before the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

Pictured are Afghan girls coming home from school

Friends: Pictured are Afghan girls coming home from school. The girls, as well as boys, were educated up to the high-school level, and although both sexes wore uniforms, the girls were not allowed to wear a chadri on their way to secondary school. Able young women attended college, as did the men

Hanging out: Hoards of happy citizens gather on large trucks, which served as portable grandstands

Hanging out: Hoards of happy citizens gather on large trucks, which served as portable grandstands

Peaceful: Men relax in the shade overlooking Istalif, a centuries-old centre for pottery, located northwest of Kabul

Peaceful: Men relax in the shade overlooking Istalif, a centuries-old centre for pottery, located northwest of Kabul

Family bond: Two colourful sisters, hand in hand, pose for a photograph in Kabul, surrounded by trading locals

Family bond: Two colourful sisters, hand in hand, pose for a photograph in Kabul, surrounded by trading locals


The idyllic images were captured in 1967, when the teacher teemed up with Unesco to work in the Higher Teachers College of Kabul.
As well as building a relationship with the Afghans he encountered, the amateur photographer set out to document their way of life.

Serene images include men relaxing outside with a picnic, boys playing in the Kabul river in the sun and girls smiling during lessons.
Others show colourful marketplaces, gardens alive with colourful flowers and even a giggling boy decorating cakes.
While many feature happy Afghans, there are many of the Podlich family peacefully enjoying their time living in the country.

Shopping trip: One of Dr Podlich's daughters, Jan, smiles during a trip to Istalif, a village 18 miles northwest of Kabul

Shopping trip: One of Dr Podlich’s daughters, Jan, smiles during a trip to Istalif, a village 18 miles northwest of Kabul

A class at the American International School of Kabul where Peg and Jan attended. After class the girls were supervised by Indian ladies wearing saris, and were driven with about 20 students back through Kabul

A class at the American International School of Kabul where Peg and Jan attended. After class the girls were supervised by Indian ladies wearing saris, and were driven with about 20 students back through Kabul

Picnic In Afghanistan shows a group of young Afghans sharing tea and music in their free-time

Picnic In Afghanistan shows a group of young Afghans sharing tea and music in their free-time


While he was teaching, Podlich’s daughters attended classes at the American International School of Kabul, which had a number of American and foreign students with parents who lived and worked in the country.

Dr Podlich’s daughter Peg states these images are incredibly important in her eyes.

‘When I look at my dad’s photos, I remember Afghanistan as a country with thousands of years of history and culture,’ Peg Podlich told the Denver Post.

‘It has been a gut-wrenching experience to watch and hear about the profound suffering which has occurred in Afghanistan during the battles of war for nearly 40 years. Fierce and proud yet fun loving people have been beaten down by terrible forces.’

The incredible collection is now managed by Peg’s husband Clayton Esterson, who immediately recognised the historical significance of the pictures.

‘Many Afghans have written comments [on the website] showing their appreciation for the photographs that show what their country was like before 33 years of war,’ he said.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS IN AFGHANISTAN

1996: Taliban seize control of Kabul prohibiting women from work, and introducing Islamic punishments such as stoning to death and amputations.

1997: Taliban recognised as legitimate rulers by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They now control about two-thirds of country.

Oct 7, 2001: President George W. Bush announces that U.S. and British troops have begun striking Afghanistan for harbouring the al-Qaeda terrorists blamed for the September 11 attacks.

December 2002: The U.S. ends the year with about 9,700 troops deployed, mostly going after Taliban insurgents.

May 2011: Bin Laden is found hiding in neighbouring Pakistan and killed in a U.S. special operations raid. There are still about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan.

June 2011: Saying the U.S. is meeting its goals in Afghanistan, Obama announces his withdrawal plan: Bring home 10,000 troops by the end of 2011.

May 2014: Obama announces his plan to pull virtually all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, when his second term in office will be drawing to a close. 

October 15, 2015: In a reversal, Obama says the situation is too fragile for the American military to leave. He announces plans to keep the current force of about 9,800 in place through most of next year to continue counter-terrorism missions and advise Afghans battling a resurgent Taliban. The plan is for the number to decrease to about 5,500 troops in 2017.

Topping up: Men stand next to their parked vehicles in a petrol station, with the rolling landscape visible behind them in the distance

Topping up: Men stand next to their parked vehicles in a petrol station, with the rolling landscape visible behind them in the distance

Tasty feast: A smiling Afghan boy is pictured decorating mounds of different cakes piled high on plates

Tasty feast: A smiling Afghan boy is pictured decorating mounds of different cakes piled high on plates

Splashing around: Men and boys playing, washing and swimming in the waters of the Kabul river

Splashing around: Men and boys playing, washing and swimming in the waters of the Kabul river

Play time: Young students in blue uniforms can be seen dancing to music in a school playground

Play time: Young students in blue uniforms can be seen dancing to music in a school playground

Not a bad commute: Young Afghans walking home with spectacular scenery visible in the distance

Not a bad commute: Young Afghans walking home with spectacular scenery visible in the distance

Pictured is an Afghan teacher. The Higher Teachers’ College was a two-year institution for training college-level teachers

Pictured is an Afghan teacher. The Higher Teachers’ College was a two-year institution for training college-level teachers

A car park of the American International School of Kabul, which the Podlich girls attended. The school no longer exists, although alumni stay in touch through Facebook and hold reunions every few years at different cities around the U.S

A car park of the American International School of Kabul, which the Podlich girls attended. The school no longer exists, although alumni stay in touch through Facebook and hold reunions every few years at different cities around the U.S

Taking in the view: A blonde Peg Podlich pictured  in Kabul, shortly after arriving, as locals walk past

Taking in the view: A blonde Peg Podlich pictured in Kabul, shortly after arriving, as locals walk past

Journeying: Peg Podlich, in the sunglasses, taking a family trip on a bus  from Kabul to Peshawar in Pakistan

Journeying: Peg Podlich, in the sunglasses, taking a family trip on a bus from Kabul to Peshawar in Pakistan

The idyllic images were captured in 1967, when the teacher (pictured) teemed up with Unesco to work in the Higher Teachers College of Kabul

The idyllic images were captured in 1967, when the teacher (pictured) teemed up with Unesco to work in the Higher Teachers College of Kabul

Using his Kodachrome film, his images show a peaceful Afghanistan making strides towards a more liberal and Westernised lifestyle - a stark contrast to harrowing sights seen during the Taliban regime

Using his Kodachrome film, his images show a peaceful Afghanistan making strides towards a more liberal and Westernised lifestyle – a stark contrast to harrowing sights seen during the Taliban regime

 As well as building a relationship with the Afghans he encountered, the amateur photographer set out to document their way of life

As well as building a relationship with the Afghans he encountered, the amateur photographer set out to document their way of life

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