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On Afghanistan's plains
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On Afghanistan's plains: British Action in Afghanistan and the North West Frontier, 1879-1935

Printed map of Iran, Afghanistan and Northwest India from 1918 made for the Indian General staffPersia, Afghanistan and North-West India, 1918 The twenty-first century British military engagement in Afghanistan which began in 2001 has focused attention on Britain’s earlier colonial wars in the region as historians, politicians and strategists seek a successful outcome to the conflict.

Afghanistan, and the mountainous semi-autonomous tribal regions that divided it from British India, assumed particular strategic importance during the nineteenth century as Britain and Russia, the two great powers of central Asia, vied for control and influence, a diplomatic and military rivalry that came to be known as The Great Game.

The Game was played out in successive British wars in Afghanistan (1839-1842, 1878-1881 and 1919). 

Numerous British skirmishes, expeditions and interventions took place in the extensive border region, including the area that from 1901 was known as the North West Frontier Province.

Printed map of Iran, Afghanistan and Northwest India from 1918 made for the Indian General staffAli Masjid and the Kyber Pass, 1935-36This disputed territory was characterised by a long history of tribal and guerrilla warfare.

Even today, this region still represents arguably the single most pressing security challenge for the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The College’s Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives holds a wealth of visual and other material relating to more than sixty years of British intervention in the area, including eye witness accounts of the Second Afghan War of 1878-1881; and photography of war-fighting and illustrative of the immense logistical challenges encountered by British and colonial forces during the Chitral Relief Expedition of 1895, the Tirah Expedition of 1897-1898 and the Waziristan and Mohmand campaigns of the 1930s.

The diplomatic dimension is captured in a remarkable collection of photographs of Afghan and British delegates in 1919, which have recently been donated to the Archives.

PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition originally ran from November 2011 - March 2012 in the foyer of the King’s building, King’s College London, and is now available to view as an online exhibition only.

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