Sketch of ground between Ali Musjid & Shahgai showing positions of British & Afghan forces on 21st Novr. 1878.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
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.