Further to my recent blog on Afghanistan, I have come across some more old photos of Pakistan and Afghanistan while sorting through the belongings of my mother, who sadly passed away recently.
Here are the Afghan pics from the period 1970-71. They are photos of slides projected on a wall so the resolution is not great but they have a certain vintage quality to them.
The Jamil Hotel in Kabul. I don’t know if it is the same place but this is what Lonely Planet says about Jamil Hotel in its latest Kabul guide: ‘This hotel was popular with backpackers until recently, when the police banned it from accepting foreign guests. Rooms have en suite, and although there is sometimes a problem with the water, the management should keep you supplied with buckets.’ Fortunately my parents did not stay there!
No sure if this is Afghanistan or Pakistan. Both had equally high incidence of traffic accidents due to overloading, poor maintenance, dangerous roads and lack of driver training.
The Khyber Rifles was set up as an auxiliary unit of the British Indian Army to help control the lawless North West Frontier province. After independence, they became part of the Pakistan Army. This is their headquarters, Shagia Fort, near Ali Masjid in Pakistan, photographed by my parents on their way to Afghanistan via the Khyber Pass.
The average altitude of Afghanistan is around 4,000 ft but climbs to as much as 20,000 ft in the Hindu Kush mountain range. This looks like a mining or quarrying settlement. And yes, that’s snow in the distance.
This is the anti-avalanche gallery at the approach to the Salang Tunnel cutting through the Hindu Kush mountains about 60 miles north of Kabul. At the time this photo was taken it was the highest road tunnel in the world at an altitude of 11,200 ft. It was built in 1964 by the Soviet Union as part of the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty. It came in handy when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan fifteen years later. The date on the tunnel reads 1343 which corresponds to our 1964. Afghanistan, like Iran, uses the Solar Hijri calendar, unlike most other Muslim countries which recognise the Lunar Hijri calendar.
I’ll write something about Pakistan in my next post.
I visited Afghanistan three times in 1970/71 with my parents who were living in neighbouring Pakistan at the time. I was just a boy in boarding school in England and I flew out to Pakistan for my Christmas and summer holidays.
Looking back, my first flight out was a hellish journey. From school I took the train to Euston, then the London Underground to Victoria. From there, it was around half a mile to walk to the BOAC Terminal on Buckingham Palace Road, lugging my old fashioned suitcase (no wheels on suitcases those days). The case was far too heavy, full of things I would never need on holiday such as a shoe cleaning kit, conkers, foreign coin collection, Beano annual etc. I remember having to stop every few yards to switch hands. Never again! Finally reaching the terminal I was able to check in the suitcase and catch the BOAC coach to Heathrow.
The flight was dreadful. It lasted forever, stopping at Rome and Damascus before landing at Karachi. There was no in-flight entertainment in those days, I felt sick as a parrot, the meals were disgusting (plastic food on plastic trays) and, worst of all, everybody seemed to be smoking. I must have passively inhaled around 100 cigarettes by the time I reached Karachi. Is it too late to sue the airline I wonder?
As an unaccompanied minor, I was escorted to the Speedbird Hotel in Karachi to freshen up and attempt to get a few hours sleep before I was taken back to the Airport and put on a PIA domestic flight to Rawalpindi/Islamabad. This was a much better flight. It was a Fokker Friendship which flew at a lower altitude and, with big windows, I was able to take a good first look at the scorched and rugged Pakistani landscape. The food was much better too, chicken curry served on a tin plate. The only downside was the rather pungent man in the next seat who spent the entire flight excavating his nostrils and wiping the contents on the armrest. My parents and sister were waiting for me at Rawalpindi Airport and the agony of the journey was soon forgotten in all the excitement of the reunion.
Here are some of my parents’ photos of Afghanistan from 1970/71. Sorry for the poor quality. They are photos of slides projected on a wall.
As mentioned, my parents took me to Kabul on three separate occasions. My Dad drove in his Vauxhall Viva via the Khyber Pass and Land Kotal. He had a British Diplomatic passport so the border formalities at the Torkham crossing were not too arduous although on the return journey I remember the Pakistani Customs confiscated a watermelon on health grounds. Apparently they were concerned that we might be importing a disease into Pakistan which they did not already have.
In many ways, Afghanistan was a very different country those days. The population was around 11 million in 1971, compared to nearly 40 million today, and the roads seemed wide and empty. Kabul smelled different from Pakistan due to the use of Soviet petrol which had a distinctive odour.
Afghanistan was still ruled by a king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who tried to steer a careful line between the Soviet Union and the United States, extracting financial aid from both sides. He ruled moderately, introduced free elections and supported women’s rights. The country was free from foreign invaders and largely at peace apart from the usual tribal disputes.
Kabul was a relative shopping paradise in those days. Afghanistan was a wine producer and my parents always bought a few bottles to take back to Pakistan. My sister bought one of those Afghan coats, which were all the rage those hippy days despite their goaty smell. I remember my Mum and Dad buying me an air rifle and a stamp album. Kabul also had an unregulated foreign exchange market and my father took me to a building full of money changers, many of them Sikhs, who sat at desks piled high with banknotes. My Dad was able to get a much better rate for his transactions in Afghanistan compared to Pakistan and it was one of his main reasons for going there.
Back in 2010 I wrote a letter to David Cameron who had just taken over as Prime Minister of UK. He had inherited the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis and I thought he might like a few suggestions. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. Perhaps I was hoping he would offer me a job! Clearly I was deluding myself to think that he would take any notice of my ideas. One of his aides sent me a brief acknowledgement while my letter was no doubt consigned to the shredding machine.
Anyway, in this letter, among other things, I urged an immediate withdrawal of UK forces from Afghanistan with a view to saving £2.5 billion per year for the UK taxpayer. This is what I wrote eleven years ago:
‘This is our fourth war in Afghanistan and the Afghans have taken an unbeatable lead in the series, having won two and drawn one. The earlier wars were fought when Britain was at the height of its imperial power with the almost limitless resources of British India right on Afghanistan’s doorstep. The technological superiority of our weaponry over the Afghans’ was at least as great as today and it was a time when the British public had an appetite for imperial adventures and a higher tolerance of casualties. If we could not overcome the Afghans then, what makes us think we will have more success this time? For the Afghan, guerrilla warfare is the national sport, inter-tribal disputes are part of their DNA and advanced weaponry is the ultimate male status symbol. Our Armed Forces of course are excellent but are on a hiding to nothing in Afghanistan. They should be pulled out now while we can still claim an honourable draw.
The Americans will eventually pull out too and the Karzai government is likely to fall. We certainly should not waste further UK taxpayer money on trying to prop up that government with funds and weapons. The Taliban might regain power but their dark reign will not be complete nor will it be permanent. Afghanistan is likely to fragment into rival warlord fiefdoms. It will be sad for the Afghans but ultimately they have to sort out their own problems and perhaps, free from foreign interference for the first time in decades, they will have a chance to forge a more stable future for themselves.’