Eighteen Years in the Khyber, 1879-1898


Sir Robert Warburton (1842–99) was a British army officer who served for 18 years as the political officer, or warden, of the Khyber Pass, the most important of the mountain passes connecting Afghanistan and present-day Pakistan. He was born in Afghanistan, the son of a British officer and his wife, a noble Afghan woman who was the niece of Amir Dost Mohammad Khan. Warburton was educated in England, commissioned an officer, and served at posts in British India and in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) before being appointed, in 1879, to his post in the Khyber. Home to the fiercely independent Pushtun Afridi people who resisted external control, the pass frequently had been blocked by the Afridis or by fighting among the hill tribes. Warburton is credited with keeping the frontier peaceful and the pass open, mainly though diplomacy rather than force. He drew upon his Afghan background and his fluent Persian and Pushto to gradually win the trust of tribesmen whose traditions made them deeply suspicious of outsiders. In August 1897, one month after Warburton’s retirement, unrest broke out among the Afridis, who seized the pass and held it for several months. Warburton was called back into service and participated in the Tirah expedition of 1897‒98, in which Anglo-Indian forces reopened the pass. Warburton was especially proud of the role played in the expedition by the Khyber Rifles, a paramilitary force recruited from Afridi tribesmen that he had raised and commanded. Eighteen Years in the Khyber, 1879‒1898 is Warburton’s account of his education and career. It touches upon virtually every individual and event that played a role in relations between Afghanistan and British India during the last quarter of the 19th century. Long in poor health, Warburton returned to England and died before the book was completed. Posthumously published, it is illustrated with a number of striking photographs and includes a detailed fold-out map of the Khyber.

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Subject Date

Publication Information

J. Murray, London


Title in Original Language

Eighteen years in the Khyber, 1879-1898

Type of Item

Physical Description

351 pages : portraits, maps ; 23 centimeters


  1. E.I. Carlyle, revised by James Falkner, “Warburton, Sir Robert (1842–1899),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Last updated: August 25, 2016