Indian Celebrities: Amir Abd al-Raḥmān


This photograph of the Afghan amir, Abd al-Raḥmān Khān (circa 1844–1901), is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Abd al-Raḥmān Khān was known as the “Iron Amir” because of his skill and forcefulness in suppressing rebellions against his authority. He is credited with creating a centralized state in the aftermath of the war, based on a cabinet called the Supreme Council, a general assembly called the Loya Jirgah, and the army. His achievements included the introduction of some modern manufacturing, agriculture, and health care. This portrait shows him as a young man in uniform, clutching the hilt of his sword. The Second Anglo-Afghan War began in November 1878 when Great Britain, fearful of what it saw as growing Russian influence in Afghanistan, invaded the country from British India. The first phase of the war ended in May 1879 with the Treaty of Gandamak, which permitted the Afghans to maintain internal sovereignty but forced them to cede control over their foreign policy to the British. Fighting resumed in September 1879, after an anti-British uprising in Kabul, and finally concluded in September 1880 with the decisive Battle of Kandahar. The album includes portraits of British and Afghan leaders and military personnel, portraits of ordinary Afghan people, and depictions of British military camps and activities, structures, landscapes, and cities and towns. The sites shown are all located within the borders of present-day Afghanistan or Pakistan (a part of British India at the time). About a third of the photographs were taken by John Burke (circa 1843–1900), another third by Sir Benjamin Simpson (1831–1923), and the remainder by several other photographers. Some of the photographs are unattributed. The album possibly was compiled by a member of the British Indian government, but this has not been confirmed. How it came to the Library of Congress is not known.

Last updated: September 30, 2016