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Afridi picket near Jumrood, Khyber & Rotass in distance.

Afridi picket near Jumrood, Khyber & Rotass in distance.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(15)

Item number: 15

Length: 21.3

Width: 28.1

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of a group of Afridis taken by John Burke in 1878. Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, in partnership at first with William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game were played out.

With the spread of Russia's sphere of influence in Central Asia, British foreign policy in the 19th century was motivated by fears of their Indian Empire being vulnerable to Russian moves southwards. The Anglo-Russian rivalry in Asia, termed the Great Game, precipitated the Second Afghan War. The British were trying to establish a permanent mission at Kabul which the Amir Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit. The arrival of a Russian diplomatic mission in Kabul in 1878 increased British suspicions of Russian influence and ultimately led to them invading Afghanistan.

The Afridis were a powerful, independent Pashtun tribe inhabiting the Peshawar border of the North West Frontier Province, who defended their mountainous strongholds with tenacity and courage, impressing the British who took them on as troops. They had a reputation for being first rate soldiers and particularly good skirmishers. The Afridi soldiers are pictured with their jezails, long and heavy Afghan muskets, with which they were excellent sharpshooters.

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