Afghanistan’s Ancient Absolutes

AFGHN-13333NF    I traveled with  the Afghan Mujahadeen in 1979, who were determined to resist,  undermine, and overthrow the Marxist puppet central government.  This was before the Soviets invaded.  I photographed men girding for war and women selling jewelry to buy ammunition.

AFGHN-13268We  traveled as much as thirty miles a day subsisting on tea and bread with an occasional bonus of goat cheese or yogurt.  The only drinking water was what we scooped out of an irrigation ditch.

AFGHN-13246I traveled with many different mujahadeen and militia groups. We mainly traveled at night to avoid being spotted by the Soviet helicopters. Most of the time we walked, but a few times we were able to borrow horses. I was always astonished at the continual pipeline of weapons and supplies going into Afghanistan from Pakistan around the clock. Rockets, mortar rounds, ammunition, were carried in by camels, donkeys, and fighters.


AFGHN-13270I witnessed strafing by Soviet helicopter gunships, ambushes of Russian convoys, forced marches of captured soldiers, and the mujahadeen jumping on top of helicopters they brought down with Stinger missles.

AFGHN-13316During the ten years the Russians were in Afghanistan, they killed one million Afghans; five million became refugees.




These are the proud men who were girding for war in a place where ancient absolutes still prevail.
Adapted from Owen Edwards in American Photographer magazine, 1980.




AFGHN-13321There was a deep camaraderie amongst the fighters who were on the greatest mission of their lives.   They didn’t worry much about casualty numbers. The harder the fight was, the stronger they became. Walking in the snow without boots high up in the Hindu Kush was commonplace.  Those men were as tough as it gets, yet they could be gentle and tender with children.




AFGHN-13314-(1)As much as outsiders have tried to “re-form” the country in their own image, Afghanistan  has been able to absorb the blows of superpowers, and remain essentially the same. The interesting thing to me is that those trying to change it,  change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of  governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.

39 Responses to “Afghanistan’s Ancient Absolutes”

  1. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

  2. Circle Lens…

    […]Afghanistan’s Ancient Absolutes « Steve McCurry's Blog[…]…

  3. Mainul Arif Says:

    Dear Steve

    As i believe one photograph is one story now its proved really “One snap is one story”. Thank you so much for lots of story presenting us by different view.

    Dhaka, Bangladesh.

  4. Dear Steve,

    I used to cover Afghanistan as well when I was shooting for the wire agencies. Among all the countries I’ve travelled to, Afghanistan has left the deepest impression in my heart. There is something magical about that place and I agree with you, it is the Afghan people who are special.

    Their culture is interesting because they have such deep bonds with each other, even if they were strangers to one another. To me, Afghanistan is a place where time stands still and the people are still pure and genuine at heart.

    I guess that’s what makes them strong as a country, their raw authenticity of their purpose as a whole nation, unwilling to be defeated, and their mission to keep on fighting..


    Jimin Lai

  5. What a timely post. Did you read Jan Morris? What do we do now that we have ‘killed Christ’?

  6. I can’t imagine the experiences you must have had travelling with them for a while. Do you speak Pashto or Farsi or any local language?

  7. What a great opportunity to be in Afghanistan in these times, these people have an amazing will to be in a land sooo ravaged by war, all told within the lines and eyes on their faces.. awesome collection Steve

  8. Lovely images and a great story to go with it, beautiful work.

  9. These pictures with the stories are so heart touching. Really, Afghanistan is still the same. Love the way the pictures depict the tale. Great work.

  10. What a wonderful chronicle of a country which is the fav battlefield for superpowers.

    The cold war has ended but the reasons for presence of foreign soldiers on the land continues. If only we leave the people alone and let them decide what they wish to do of their country.

  11. more than a story..

  12. I do admire Steve’s pictures and what we does, but it hurts me as a Russian to read such a comments. I’m sorry for Afghan people, but that about the current situation? (edited)

    • Don’t take it personally Oleg. History has been bitter. This was the situation back then which Steven has beautifully captured.

  13. Beautiful photography and a great story to go along with it.

  14. Hi Steve.

    You are an incredible source of inspiration and your love for Afghanistan (and India too)
    oozes from every square inch of your outstanding images.

    Looking at your masterpieces I keep on learning, thanks so much for your shared Art.

    Marco (Italy)

  15. Khalid Rahim Says:

    Steve why are we Pashtuns being hunted on both sides of the border.
    The NATO occupation has exceeded the Soviet occupation. I don’t think
    the Pashtuns will ever see the same power they held before 1980.

    The period between 1990 and 2001 is linked to power struggle between Tajiks and Pashtuns and it continues in various forms. Afghanistan is now a strategic pivot on which you can place your geo-political fulcrum
    and swing in the direction of any border State that does not agree with
    the New World Order.

  16. Great Cronicle shots of Afganistan,
    Steve, I admire the great efforts you put into these beautiful works.

  17. Much has already been said above…:)..”Emotional streaks:.. keep inspiring sir.

  18. Caro Sr Steve
    Como sempre suas fotografias expressam o sentimento puro que vai na alma de cada pessoa fotografada, olhando-as consigo sentir toda a força que o povo Afegao faz para preservar seu país sua cultura e tradiçoes.
    Fico me perguntando , onde estarão hoje estes combatentes que aqui estarao retratados?
    muito obrigado por compartilhar tao belas fotos

  19. Such an intense set of pictures.
    I wish the rest of the world would leave these people in peace.

  20. Thank you for your insight into their corner of the world with your amazing images.

  21. Steve,

    Thanks for sharing. Incredible black and white images.

  22. Another great collection from you Steve.

    Thanks for sharing.

  23. Your mind is clear, you are not a bussinesman, but one human being,

    That’s why you can be concerned, and see another person, as an individual, and take him or her as single as well.

    one to one… wish you plenty of health to keep on being our eyes!!!

  24. Angelita Headspeath Says:

    Fantastic stuff…this is what photography is all about…a story behind every picture…very inspiring!

  25. Great work under stressful conditions. I am still amazed at the sharpness and clarity of these photos.

    Digital is nice, but it still isn’t the same as film and the lens of those days.

  26. Wonderful work again, always making the the extreme and exotic appear more clear, rational, human and relatable. Powerful emotional insight Steve.

    Looking forward to your talk on Thurs in Dublin, talk soon.


  27. Says:

    What a great depiction of Afghan Pride !!

  28. Amazing set. Some of those guys have so much character. I hope they are all well.

  29. Another humbling and human story Steve, always distilling the epic, exotic, and extreme to its seem rational, dignified and relatable. Very much looking forward to your discussion this Thurs in Dublin. Thanks.


  30. Raffi Kirdi Says:

    An instant classic, Afghanistan’s war is a uphill battle.

  31. “The harder the fight was, the stronger they became”

    Thank you for your open mind. I have grown up in a western world where men described like that would exclusively be classified as fanatic and fundamentalist – and therefore evil. You are adding so much more nuance to it than that.

    Thank you for great inspiration.

  32. “The interesting thing to me is that those trying to change it, change more than the country does even after Herculean efforts of governments, NGO’s, and coalitions.” —— Three cheers to what you said Steve. Great work.

  33. Afghanistan and its people have been going through much pain and voilence!

    and a lot of very unusual photos from Afghanistan clicked by you only tells they are also human beings just like you and me.

    Salute to you for the great pictures!

  34. Great Steve. Greeting from Iran !

  35. A beautiful series artistically and humanely; thank you so much!

  36. Great emotion!

  37. Jay Rajamanickam Says:

    Really very great pictures, Steve. Fantastic in black and white. Hats off!

  38. Another great collection from you Steve !

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