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River gorge above Lalpura, looking towards Bassaule.

River gorge above Lalpura, looking towards Bassaule.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(52)

Item number: 52

Length: 17.7

Width: 31.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view looking down onto the Kabul River across to Basaul, in Afghanistan, with soldiers in the foreground, 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.

Of the numerous tribes occupying the hills of the Peshawar Valley, there were three more significant than the others: the Yusufzais, occupying the land between the Indus to the Swat river, the Mohmands from the Swat to the Kabul river, and the Afridis south of the Kabul river. The settlements of the Mohmands stretched from the Peshawar border to Jalalabad in the west and Kunar in the north. The most important of the Mohmand chiefs was the Khan of Lalpura, with whom the British had first become acquainted during the First Afghan War. Events ensuing from that war meant that he was not disposed to be friendly to the British. The chiefs of the Peshawar valley tribes ran their jagirs or fiefs largely independent of government control. With the advent of the British who meant to change this state of affairs and make the tribal chiefs subordinate, much of the Afghan Wars involved subduing the tribes or negotiating uneasy peace with them.

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