The Dost's family [Kabul].
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph taken in 1879 by John Burke, showing the Amir of Afghanistan, Yakub Khan, with his family members and officials in Kabul. Burke travelled with the British Army through the North West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan) into Afghanistan photographing the surroundings and events of the Second Afghan War (1878-80). He captured military and topographical scenes but also became the first significant photographer of the people of Afghanistan. Burke is also credited with photographing a number of the darbars or meetings that took place between the British combat leaders and Afghan chiefs which led to the uneasy peace treaties characteristic of the campaign.
Yakub Khan was a grandson of Dost Mohammed Khan (1791-1863), the charismatic Amir of Afghanistan who had established the country's borders and independence from British India through treaty in 1855. When he died, there was a struggle for succession amongst his sons. Sher Ali, his fifth son, won the throne in 1869 after killing two of his brothers and defeating a nephew. The country was unstable and tumultous, and the relationship between Sher Ali and his son Yakub (who occupied the western city of Herat and was its governor) was troubled, especially when Sher Ali chose a much younger son, Abdullah Jan, as successor. In 1874, Yakub was imprisoned for five years as a consequence of his rebelliousness. This is said to have impaired his health and abilities when the British negotiated the Treaty of Gandamak with him in 1879. Yakub, dressed in the white garb he favoured on formal occasions, is seen seated left centre in the photograph. He was only 34 years old and had been left to rule by his father who fled Kabul to take refuge in Russian territory when the British advanced.