With the past three decades of conflict and neglect that the country has experienced, it is all-too-easy to forget that Afghanistan used to be more modern and, in many ways, much more Western than the huts and robes we see in TV stock footage would lead us to believe.
Mohammad Qayoumi’s article in Foreign Policy is eye-opening and extremely timely. Qayoumi reminds us that Afghanistan is not by nature that hopelessly backwater, savage territory that Westerners tend to see it as. Kabul had female students. Female workers. It’s almost impossible to imagine now, with the mass media’s (and thus most Westerners’) current take on the country, but the series of black-and-white photographs Kayoumi has digitized provide a fantastic illustration.
This is more than a curiosity, especially if you tend to ask why NATO and its allies continue to bang their heads against the wall to secure (occupy) a territory that seems impossible to secure. Kayoumi’s photo-essay makes it seem unreasonable, even stupid, to say that Afghanistan’s culture is fundamentally incompatible with Western ideals like gender equality and democracy.
Check out Kayoumi’s article: One Upon a Time in Afghanistan