'Emankot', Buddhist hill east of Bassaule.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of Buddhist ruins on top of a hill near Basawal in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan, 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, assisting 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 Khyber region and Jalalabad district was rich in Buddhist artifacts dating from the period when Buddhism was the dominant religion in Afghanistan and this area and the adjacent portions of the Indian subcontinent were under the Kushana empire (1st to 3rd centuries AD). Buddhism had spread to Afghanistan from the 3rd century BC. The term Gandhara is used to describe the Buddhist art and architecture of the north-west of the subcontinent and eastern Afghanistan dating from the 1st to 5th centuries AD; Gandhara art flowed from a fusion of Indian, Greek and Persian influences. One of the unintended effects of the Second Afghan War was an interest in the Buddhist history of the region which was largely unknown at this point. Burke took many pictures of archaeological sites encountered en route.