National Geographic : 2002 Feb
River Valley. Teachers came from the U.S., France, Germany, the U.S.S.R. Among them were Peace Corps volunteers who taught lan guages, math, sciences, medicine, nursing, accounting, and secretar ial skills. The Soviets built apart ments and trained the army. It was a heady, wild, wonderful time. At least in Kabul. The liberal wave that began in 1963 did not reach the countryside. Most roads were rutted tracks. The telephone was a novelty, TV unknown. Fewer than 10 percent of rural Afghans could read or write. In Kabul the parliament squab bled, criticized, but seldom passed JAMESHILL,GETTYIMAGES Boys helped shoulder the burden of war for the Northern Alliance. This loose coalition of diverse ethnic groups stood against the Taliban. Afghani laws. The new freedoms embold ened communists to demonstrate, promote strikes, and demand faster reform. Conservatives be gan to have second thoughts about democracy. In 1973 Zahir Shah was over thrown by his cousin, Daoud, a hot-tempered autocrat. The king went into exile in Rome as Daoud abolished the parliament and ended the decade of democracy. In 1978 came another coup: Afghan communists, possibly guided by Moscow, assassinated Daoud and took over. Thus began the 23 years of terrible warfare. Could the optimism of that decade ever return? Consider the arithmetic of Afghanistan: A mil lion and a half people killed. Nearly four million living as refu gees, including most of the veneer of educated men and women. Land mines preventing the use of thousands of acres of precious farmland. Kabul all but destroyed, the university in rubble. High ways, bridges-gone. Experts say it will take at least a decade to re build Afghanistan merely to its spare 1960s development level. And many more years to bring it into the 21st century.