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Sketch of ground between Ali Musjid & Shahgai showing positions of British & Afghan forces on 21st Novr. 1878.

Sketch of ground between Ali Musjid & Shahgai showing positions of British & Afghan forces on 21st Novr. 1878.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(85)

Item number: 85

Length: 20.2

Width: 29.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photographic copy of a map prepared by Lieut. G.W.B. Bartram and Lieut W.G. Knox, showing British and Afghan positions between Ali Masjid and Shahgai in the region of the Khyber Pass, taken by John Burke in 1878. Accurate maps were vital for navigation through the hostile mountainous territory which was the scene of the military operations during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80). Burke, an intrepid photographer widely travelled in the Indian sub-continent, is best known for his photography during the Second Afghan War. He entered Afghanistan in 1878 with the Peshawar Valley Field Force and during the two-year campaign worked steadily in the hostile environment of Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province (now Pakistan), the scene of the military operations. Burke's photographs include many of the people of Afghanistan and his 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.

On 21st November 1878, the British launched their attack against the Amir of Afghanistan. They had given him the deadline of November 20th to accept an embassy and he had chosen not to reply. The very next day, a planned series of moves were made by separate British columns along the entire Afghan border. The most important of the British army columns was at first the Peshawar Valley Field Force whose brief was to take the vital Khyber Pass. To do this they had to capture the hill of Ali Masjid in the centre of the Pass, known as the Key of the Khyber.

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