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How accurate is the nostalgia of the “Modern, Progressive Afghanistan of the 1970s?” Has Afghan culture and society really changed that much in the last 40 years?(r/AskHistorians)
As is often the case with these types of notions, what you’re looking at is a kernel of progressive modernity in a pile of traditional tribal culture and conservative Islam.
By the time that we get to the 1970s, we’re talking about a country that had, even on the fringes, played a role in the great cold war rivalry between the USA and the USSR. Aid projects, construction work, infrastructure projects, foreign teachers, grain swaps, etc etc exposed a small segment of the Afghan population, primarily in Kabul and other cities like Herat, to new types of thinking and living. Combined with a monarchy set on modernizing the country, there were certainly segments of the population that were relatively liberal on matters such as human rights, education, women’s rights, and life in general.
That said, these societal changes did not reach most of Afghanistan. Islam and traditional tribal culture remained the building blocks of society throughout a vast majority of the country. Tribal warfare continued to rage through the 1960s and 1970s, even as Zahir Shah and Daoud sought modernizing reforms. Women’s rights in the country side continued to rest where it had for many centuries, with women routinely being sold as goods, not being allowed an education, and having very low social status. One of the reasons why the communists, who took over the state between 1973-1978, were so reviled by the rural population was because they attempted to increase the rights of women nationwide.
I’m at work right now so I can’t really jump into the topic in the way that I would like, but anyone who wants to read some fascinating books on the subject should check out:
The Bear, the Dragon, and the AK-47 by Ethan Rosen
The Sewing Circles of Herat, by Christina Lamb
Fountainhead of Jihad, the Haqqani Nexus by Vahid Brown and Don Rassler
Soldiers of God, by Robert Kaplan
Ghost Wars, by Steve Coll
The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 by William Dalrymple
Little America, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Edit: If anyone has any questions about Afghanistan, particularly relating to the Soviet-Afghan War, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer when I get off work.