Group of Afghans


This photograph of a group of Afghan men is from an album of rare historical photographs depicting people and places associated with the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Most of the men are armed with rifles or jezails (heavy Afghan muskets) and wear distinctive turbans. Pashtuns generally leave a length of turban cloth hanging down, so these men are probably from a smaller ethnic group. One lone exception has no head covering at all, and there is a Sikh soldier sitting on a chair in the center of the photograph. He wears a British Army uniform, soldiers' boots, and a Sikh dastar (a different style of turban), which distinguish him from the rest of the group. Some Pashtun tribes fought for the British during the war, while Sikhs were used as highly effective mountain scouts and regular infantry against Afghan forces. 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