The airline was set up on 27 January 1955. It was established as Aryana Airlines with the assistance of Indamer Co. Ltd., which initially held a 49% interest, and the government of Afghanistan owned the balance. At the beginning, services were operated to Bahrain, India, Iran, and Lebanon, with a fleet of three Douglas DC-3s. In 1957, Pan American World Airways became the minor shareholder of the airline when it took over the 49% interest from Indamer. Domestic scheduled services started the same year. By April 1960, a fleet of three DC-3s was being used for linking Kabul with Amritsar, Delhi, Jeddah, and Karachi, as well as with some points within Afghanistan, while a single DC-4 operated the Kabul–Kandahar–Tehran–Damascus–Beirut–Ankara–Prague–Frankfurt service, so-called “Marco Polo” route. In the early 1960s, US$1,100,000($8,769,066 in 2015) from US aid to Afghanistan was used to capitalise the company.
By March 1970, the airline had 650 employees. At this time, the fleet comprised one Boeing 727-100C, one CV-440, one DC-3 and two Douglas DC-6s that worked on routes serving the Middle East, India, Pakistan, theUSSR, and Istanbul, Frankfurt and London. Domestic services were then operated by Bakhtar Alwatana, which was established by the government in 1967 to this specific purpose.
The carrier’s first widebody aircraft, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, entered the fleet in early October 1979. By March 1985, the aircraft fleet consisted of the DC-10 and two Boeing 727-100Cs. In the mid-1980s, during the Soviet-Afghan War, the carrier was forced to sell the DC-10 to British Caledonian, as the Soviets wanted the carrier to fly the Tupolev Tu-154 as a replacement. In October 1985, Ariana was taken over byBakhtar, which became the country’s new national airline. In 1986, Bakhtar ordered two Tupolev Tu-154Ms; the airline took possession of these aircraft in April 1987. In February 1988, Bakhtar was merged back into Ariana, thus creating an airline which could serve both short and long haul routes.