Safed Sang camp scene I/C R.H.A.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph showing a British army camp with men of 1 Company, Royal Horse Artillery, posed in the foreground, taken by John Burke in 1878 near the Safed Koh mountain range which runs from east to west at the north-westerly end of the great Himalayan Range. The British army camped at Safed Sang during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80) as there was a good water supply in the valley. However it was also stony, treeless, dusty and very exposed. The camp was in a strategically important position in the North West Frontier Province on the route from Peshawar (now in Pakistan) to Kabul (Afghanistan).
Burke, an intrepid photographer widely travelled in the Indian sub-continent, is best known for his photography during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80). 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, 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.