Early in his splendid book, Jules Stewart points out that while the world at large may be familiar with the Khyber Pass as a geopolitical flashpoint – a blood-soaked gateway between Asia and the subcontinent – it is not so well aware of the Khyber Rifles, one of the tribal regiments raised by the British Empire in the nineteenth century to protect it. Everyone has heard of the Khyber Pass: maybe from Kipling’s couplet, ‘When springtime flushes the desert grass / Our kafilas [caravans] wind through the Khyber Pass’; maybe because no one could ever forget Sid James’s irrepressible Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in the unremittingly un-PC, though entirely hilarious, Carry On up the Khyber; or maybe it is the increasing popularity of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman Papers, a ‘Great Game’ roman-fleuve, which occasionally takes the road from Peshawar to Jallalabad. Whatever the reason, as one of Stewart’s characters, the veteran frontiersman Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Croker, wrote: ‘if the romance of Asia is to be found in India, then surely the romance of India centres in the Khyber Pass’.
For the record, the pass is in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), a region originally defined by the great imperialist Lord Curzon, which became part of Pakistan on its formation in 1947. Since the days of Alexander the Great the difficult passes through the Hindu Kush have been the main