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View of the descent from Khurd Khyber looking towards Bassaule.

View of the descent from Khurd Khyber looking towards Bassaule.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(57)

Item number: 57

Length: 23.7

Width: 29.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view looking along the rock-strewn Khurd Khyber path towards Basaul, Afghanistan, with figures posed in the foreground, taken by John Burke, 1878. Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, assisting William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke's two-year 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 Khurd Khyber Pass is a defile in the Khurd range of mountains in the Jalalabad district of Afghanistan, which was described thus in the Gazetteer of Afghanistan, part IV, p.299, Calcutta, 1910, 'It is very narrow, in some places not admitting of two horsemen riding abreast, and about three-quarters of a mile long. It is merely a deep, narrow ravine with high banks in some parts. The road through it is good, and the descent in it is not difficult, but an enemy occupying the heights could stop the advance of any force till they were dislodged'.

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