Britain's Afghan past nearly consigned to dustbin of history

Hundreds of photographs depicting over a century of British involvement in Afghanistan have been rediscovered in the British Embassy in Kabul – shortly before they were due to be consigned to the rubbish tip.

Maintenance staff found an old box full of black-and-white pictures, some dating back to the 1870s, as they were having a clear-out. "They were about to be thrown on a skip when someone realised it might be worth hanging on to them," an embassy spokesman said.

The photographs date back to the days of The Great Game, in which British and Russian agents waged a shadowy battle for influence in Central Asia, later immortalised in Rudyard Kipling's novel Kim. Although some of the snapshots have Urdu script on them, in many the identity of the people pictured is a mystery and embassy staff are sending the collection to London for further examination by experts.

"For the most part, we don't know who they are and that's why we're sending them back," a spokesman said. There is talk of an exhibition next year, once more is known.

Among the pictures are propaganda shots from the 1970s of national sports teams and Afghan ministers meeting film stars; there are 12 pictures of staff inspecting a boiler at the British Embassy – from a similar era, judging by the clothing; and a collection of older images taken in Kabul, the Khyber Pass and Peshawar in Pakistan.

A number of the photographs were compiled in an album by a telegraph office worker called P V Luke who was stationed on British Imperial India's north-west frontier during the Second Anglo-Afghan war of 1878 to 1880.

Mr Luke helped build the first telegraph line through the Khyber Pass. His photos were presented to the British Embassy in Kabul by his widow during the 1930s.