Throughout the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the British authorities, both in London and Calcutta, were becoming progressively more concerned about the security of India's undefined northern border along which the empires of Britain, Russia and China and the kingdom of Afghanistan met. Although the Russian capture of Francis Younghusband in 1891 and the consequent danger of war had forced the British and Russians to the conference table, Russia, China and Afghanistan were still on a collision course in those reaches of the Pamirs beyond the purview of Anglo-Russian bilateral border talks. Consequently, when the Russians forced the Chinese to withdraw from Ak-Tash and defeated an Afghan force encamped at Somatash, the nightmore vision of Russian armies poised at the gates of India suddenly appeared both real and terrifying.
The Government of India's reaction was prompt. The governor general, Lord Lansdowne, determined to strengthen the garrison at Gilgit, the British station to the north of Kashmir. But the position in Gilgit was viable only if Chitral, to the west, were secure. This mountain satrapy was, in the eyes of Calcutta, the key to the defense of the whole northern border, and while Mehtar Aman-ul-Mulk occupied the throne of the state, British influence was paramount. But in September 1892, this venerable and crafty autocrat died, opening a Pandora's box of succession controversy that had remained largely sealed during the deceased ruler's lengthy hegemony.
The immediate consequences of the mehtar's death gave little indication of what was to follow.