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The early city, known as Pushapur (the City of Flowers), first came to prominence as the winter capital of the Buddhist Kushans, contemporaries of Rome and Han China, and was a centre of both Gandharan art and pilgrimage. It became Muslim under the Afghan Ghaznavids in the 11th century, later falling under the sway of the Mughal empire, who like earlier rulers recognised its strategic importance at the foot of the Khyber Pass. The Mughals filled Peshawar with gardens, mosques and monuments rivalling those of Lahore and Delhi, until the Afghans wrested it back from their control in the 1680s.

Like the Kushans, the Afghan kings favoured Peshawar as a winter residence, and were aggrieved when the upstart Sikh kingdom snatched it in 1818 and levelled its buildings. This coincided with the start of the Great Game, and Afghan desire to regain Peshawar helped draw Britain into the first Anglo-Afghan war. When the Sikh kingdom faded into history, the British made Peshawar their frontier headquarters until Partition. From the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the post-9/11 landscape, Peshawar’s strategic significance continues.