June 24, 2010

The Old Country, Back in the Day

In the late 1950s, my grandfather, Abdussattar Shalizi, was the president of the planning office in Afghanistan's ministry of planning; back then Afghanistan had a planning office and a ministry of planning which were not just jokes. During that time he wrote a book called Afghanistan: Ancient Land with Modern Ways, mostly consisting of his photographs of the signs of the country's progress. This was, as you might guess, a propaganda piece, but I can testify that it was an utterly sincere propaganda piece. So far as I know my grandfather did not erect any Potemkin factories, schools, houses, irrigation works, record stores, Girl Scout troops, or secure roads for his photographs. Re-reading the book now fills me with pity and, to be honest, anger.

But it is important to remember, when people ignorantly mutter about a country stuck in the 12th century, not just that the 12th century meant something very different there than it did in Scotland, but that 1960 in Afghanistan actually happened. So I am very pleased to see, via my brother, a photo essay in Foreign Policy, by Mohammad Qayoumi, consisting of scanned photos from my grandfather's book, with his original captions and Qayoumi's commentary. Go look.

(My plan to post something positive at least once a week was a total failure. I am contemplating requiring every merely-critical post to be paired with a positive one.)

Manual trackback: Gaddeswarup

Update, 18 August 2021: The entire book is online via the Library of Congress

Afghanistan and Central Asia

Posted at June 24, 2010 21:30 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth