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The Khan of Lalpura & followers, with political officer.

The Khan of Lalpura & followers, with political officer.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(55)

Item number: 55

Length: 23.2

Width: 28.3

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with Colonel Sir Robert Warburton (1842-1899) sitting amid a group of Afghan warriors, taken by John Burke in 1878. Burke travelled widely as a photographer in the sub-continent, but is best known for his photography during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-80). He accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force during the two-year campaign and worked steadily in the hostile environment of Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province (Pakistan), the scene of the military operations. Burke's photographs include many of the people of Afghanistan, and he is also credited with photographing the many darbars that took place with Afghan chiefs which led to the uneasy peace treaties characteristic of the campaign. 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.

The charismatic Warburton was among the many interesting personalities who worked along the North-West Frontier of the British Empire in India, his story is likened to that of Rudyard Kipling's 'Kim'. He was half-Afghan, his mother Shah Jahan Begum was the niece of the former Amir Dost Mohammed of Afghanistan, and his father was Lt. Colonel Robert Warburton who saw action in Kabul in the First Afghan War (1838-42). It was said that she had saved him from capture and he fell in love with her and married her. Their son was educated in India and at Addiscombe in England, joining the Royal Artillery and returning to India in 1862. Perhaps because of his mother's aristocratic lineage he was comfortable with his mixed heritage. Fluent in Pashtu, he moved fluidly between the Afghans and the British, establishing rappport with both. After the Khyber Pass came under British possession, he was made political officer in charge of the pass, from 1879-1897, responsible for the Afridis, considered the most aggressive of the Afghan tribes. He forged the Khyber Rifles into a fighting unit, and kept the peace with the Afridis for 18 years. They rose in revolt against the British soon after his retirement. Warburton, who died at Kensington, wrote a memoir, Eighteen years in the Khyber (London 1900). This photograph is one of the best-known and oft-reproduced of Burke's Afghan War pictures.

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