Wesley G. Pippert: A 50-Year Look Back at When Afghanistan Was Living in Biblical Times

From a Facebook post by Wesley G. Pippert:

In the early 1970s, I interviewed Cleo Shook for part of my book of profiles that was published then. Shook was a career official in the Agency for International Development (AID) who had done considerable work in Afghanistan. I speculated he might become ambassador to Afghanistan. Back then, that would not be considered a particularly choice or critical assignment.

At that time — more than 50 years ago — Shook said Afghanistan seemed like living in biblical times. “You can drive through the countryside and still see things that have not changed significantly for 2,000 years — the way they till the soil, plant, reap, harvest, weave their clothes, spin their cloth. They are eating and sleeping and conducting family life just the way it was done long ago.”

Shook had joined the Kennedy administration as a Peace Corps operations officer and joined AID in 1966. He supervised the construction and paving of 187 miles from Kabul to Kandahar. And the relocation of 85 miles of a major highway between Kabul and the Pakistani border at Peshawar. He helped establish a busing system. When President Eisenhower traveled through India, Iran and Afghanistan, Shook had gone along as a consultant and interpreter.

The year 1973 proved to be tumultuous in Afghanistan. King Mohammed Zahir and Prime Minister Mohammed Musa Shafiq were overthrown in what seemed a step toward “genuine democracy.” A month earlier n 1973, Shook said, the Afghan government had confiscated the Community Christian Church of Kabul, a congregation of 220 Americans and Europeans, the only Protestant church in the land.

Wesley G. Pippert is one of a handful of print reporters in the U.S. who have had extended assignments covering state capitals, Congress, the White House and an international post. In all, he spent nearly 30 years with United Press International (UPI). He covered three presidential campaigns and the Carter White House, and he was UPI’s principal on the Watergate story. His final assignment with UPI was as senior Middle East correspondent, headquartered in Jerusalem.

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