Images of old Afghanistan depict better times


"So many people have forgotten how Afghanistan used to be," says Dr. Mohammad Qayuomi, who has led Cal State East Bay for four years, and is in the perfect position to talk about the power of education and teach about the history of the country in which he was born. He has come a long way from his days in Kabul as the son of a carpenter and a mother who was not able to go to school. "The Afghanistan of the days that I was growing up was an Afghanistan of hope. People had aspirations; people wanted to improve their lives."

Qayuomi showed us archival photographs and videos from Afghanistan's minister of information that show life in Afghanistan in the 1950s and 1960s, where the scenes could be from anywhere in a modern country. There were plenty of jobs in construction, as well as the traditional jobs of farming and herding animals.

"Another thing that was really happening back as I was growing up was the beginning of the strong emancipation of women, where women were becoming part of the workforce," he says. "Many of the girls were having an opportunity to go to school and go to the universities."

Most did not wear burqas to cover themselves.

"The burqa, what people people miss is, the burqa actually came from Pakistan only about 100 years ago. It does not have roots in Afghanistan," he says.

Women were in government and there were family planning centers where women were taught about limiting their family size in order to be able to provide for their children.

Back then, the city of Kabul was lit up like the Fourth of July during its Independence Day fireworks shows. Afghanistan had an Air Force and a large Army.

"Part of what's important here is the country had a very functional military," says Qayuomi.

The country had stability and drew tourists from all over the world. There were even car races because the roads at the time were so good. Even the forests were green in a country most of us only know as a barren war zone.

"It looks like areas of Sierra Nevada," he says.

This is before the Soviet invasion 30 years ago started Afghanistan's downfall. Then, terrorists used the country as a base to plot attacks on the United States and the Taliban moved in, repressing girls and women.

"What these groups are really trying to do is make sure that women will not be able to get an education. So as part of that, they'll always be subordinated, they'll never have economic independency," says Qayuomi.

Qayoumi is hoping to reach Afghans of all ages with his historic footage of Afghanistan.

"My thought has been for the young generation to give it a sense of pride in it and as part of that, I think that will be a way they can remain engaged," he says. "For the older generation it's a sense of nostalgia, but more importantly, for most of the western audiences to see that country that was moving along and it was thriving back in the 60s and 70s, and it had a plan and it had a future."

Qayoumi knows from experience that the best way to drive Afghanistan back to the future is through education.

"When we talk about the American dream, I think the American dream is really an embodiment of the human dream in that everybody would like to live peacefully… and would like to have a life for their children that was better than theirs," he says.

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