General view of Khyber from Sarkai Hill looking towards Ali Musjid, taken before advance.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the Khyber Pass taken by John Burke in 1878, with a general view looking towards Ali Masjid, taken before the advance of the British army column. John 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.
The Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) precipitated the Second Afghan War. Afghanistan was of strategic importance to the British in the defence of their Indian Empire, and the prevention of the spreading influence of Russia. They favoured a Forward Policy of extending India's frontiers to the Hindu Kush and gaining control over Afghanistan. An opportunity presented itself when the Amir Sher Ali turned away a British mission while a Russian mission was visiting his court at Kabul. The British had demanded a permanent mission at Kabul which Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit.
British suspicions of the Amir's perceived susceptibility to the Russians led them to invade Afghanistan.
The stone fort of Ali Masjid was considered the key to the Khyber Pass. Nine miles from Jamrud, the Pass ascends gradually to Ali Masjid (3,174 feet), on the west bank of the Kabul river. For five miles from Ali Masjid the Pass is a narrow defile about 600 feet wide, flanked by precipitous walls. Overlooking this, the fort of had been the scene of more than one famous siege. The commander of the Field Force, Lt. General Sam Browne, knew that to take the fort meant to hold the Khyber Pass.