Ahmad Shah Durrani
|Ahmad Shah Durrani|
Durr-i-Durrani ("pearl of pearls")
|Successor||Timur Shah Durrani|
|Father||Muhammad Zaman Khan Abdali|
|Died||16 October 1772
Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Ahmad Shāh Durrānī (c. 1722 – 16 October 1772) (Pashto/Persian: احمد شاه دراني), also known as Ahmad Khān Abdālī (Pashto/Persian: احمد خان ابدالي), was the founder of the Durrani Empire and is regarded as the founder of the modern state of Afghanistan. He began his career by enlisting as a young soldier in the military of the Afsharid kingdom and quickly rose to become a commander of the Abdali Regiment, a cavalry of four thousand Abdali Pashtun soldiers.
After the death of Nader Shah Afshar in 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani was chosen as King of Afghanistan. Rallying his Afghan tribes and allies, he pushed east towards the Mughal and the Maratha empires of India, west towards the disintegrating Afsharid Empire of Persia, and north toward the Khanate of Bukhara. Within a few years, he extended his control from Khorasan in the west to Kashmir and North India in the east, and from the Amu Darya in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south.
Durrani's mausoleum is located at Kandahar, Afghanistan, adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak in the center of the city. Afghans often refer to him as Ahmad Shāh Bābā ("Ahmad Shah the Father").
Durrani was born in or about 1722 to Mohammad Zaman Khan, chief of the Abdali tribe and Governor of Herat, and Zarghuna Alakozai. There has been some debate about Durrani's exact place of birth. Most believe that he was born in Herat, Afghanistan. One of the historians relied on primary sources such as Mahmud-ul-Musanna's Tarikh-i-Ahmad Shahi of 1753 and Imam-uddin al-Hussaini's Tarikh-i-Hussain Shahi of 1798. Others hold that he was actually born in the city of Multan during a period when his mother was taking temporary shelter with relatives due to a struggle in Herat between the Ghiljis and Abdalis. Soon after Durrani was born his father died. The title of his father as governor was passed down to Zulfiqar Khan, older brother of Durrani.
Durrani's forefathers were Sadozais but his mother was from the Alakozai tribe. In June 1729, the Abdali forces under Zulfiqar had surrendered to Nader Shah Afshar, the rising new ruler of Persia. However, they soon began a rebellion and took over Herat as well as Mashad. In July 1730, he defeated Ibrahim Khan, a military commander and brother of Nadir Shah. This prompted Nadir Shah to retake Mashad and also intervene in the power struggle of Harat. By July 1731, Zulfiqar returned to his capital Farah where he had been serving as the governor since 1726. A year later Nadir's brother Ibrahim Khan took control of Farah. During this time Zulfiqar and the young Durrani fled to Kandahar where they took refuge with the Ghiljis. They were later made political prisoners by Hussain Hotak, the Ghilji ruler of the Kandahar region.
Nader Shah had been enlisting the Abdalis in his army since around 1729. After conquering Kandahar in 1738, Durrani and his brother Zulfiqar were freed and provided with leading careers in Nadir Shah's administration. Zulfiqar was made Governor of Mazandaran while Durrani remained working as Nadir Shah's personal attendant. The Ghiljis, who are originally from the territories east of the Kandahar region, were expelled from Kandahar in order to resettle the Abdalis along with some Qizilbash and other Persians.
Commander of the Abdali Regiment
Durrani proved himself in Nader Shah's service and was promoted from a personal attendant (yasāwal) to command the Abdali Regiment, a cavalry of four thousand soldiers and officers. The Abdali Regiment was part of Nader Shah's military during his invasion of the Mughal Empire in 1738.
Popular history has it that the Shah could see the talent in his young commander. Later on, according to Pashtun legend, it is said that in Delhi Nader Shah summoned Durrani, and said, "Come forward Ahmad Abdali. Remember Ahmad Khan Abdali, that after me the Kingship will pass on to you. "Nader Shah used to say in admiration that he had not met in Iran, Turan, and Hindustan any man of such laudable talents as Ahmad Abdali possessed."
Nader Shah's rule abruptly ended in June 1747 when he was assassinated by his own guards. The guards involved in the assassination did so secretly so as to prevent the Abdalis from coming to their King's rescue. However, Durrani was told that the Shah had been killed by one of his wives. Despite the danger of being attacked, the Abdali contingent led by Durrani rushed either to save the Shah or to confirm what happened. Upon reaching the Shah's tent, they were only to see his body and severed head. Having served him so loyally, the Abdalis wept at having failed their leader, and headed back to Kandahar. On their way back to Kandahar, the Abdalis had decided that Durrani would be their new leader, and already began calling him as Ahmad Shah.
At the time of Nadir's death, he commanded a contingent of Abdali Pashtuns. Realizing that his life was in jeopardy if he stayed among the Persians who had murdered Nadir Shah, he decided to leave the Persian camp, and with his 4,000 troops he proceeded to Qandahar. Along the way and by sheer luck, they managed to capture a caravan with booty from India. He and his troops were rich; moreover, they were experienced fighters. In short, they formed a formidable force of young Pashtun soldiers who were loyal to their high-ranking leader.
Rise to power
In October 1747, the chiefs of the Abdali tribe met near Kandahar for a loya jirga to choose a leader. For nine days serious discussions were held among the candidates in the Argah. Durrani kept silent by not campaigning for himself. At last Sabir Shah, a well known religious figure from the area, came out of his sanctuary and stood before those in the jirga and said, "He found no one worthy for leadership except Ahmah Shah. He is the most trustworthy and talented for the job. He had Sabir's blessing for the nomination because only his shoulders could carry this responsibility". The leaders and everyone agreed unanimously. Ahmad Shah Durrani was chosen to lead the Afghan tribes. Coins where struck after his coronation as King occurred near the tomb of Shaikh Surkh, adjacent to Nader Abad Fort.
Despite being younger than other claimants, Durrani had several overriding factors in his favour:
- He was a direct descendant of Sado, patriarch of the Sadozai clan, the most prominent tribe amongst the Pashtuns at the time;
- He was unquestionably a charismatic leader and seasoned warrior who had at his disposal a trained, mobile force of several thousand cavalrymen;
- Haji Ajmal Khan, the chief of the Mohammedzais (also known as Barakzais) which were rivals of the Sadodzais, already withdrew out of the election
One of Durrani's first acts as chief was to adopt the titles Padishah-i-Ghazi ("victorious emperor"), and Durr-i-Durrani ("pearl of pearls" or "pearl of the age").
Forming the last Afghan empire
Following his predecessor, Durrani set up a special force closest to him consisting mostly of his fellow Durranis and other Pashtuns, as well as Tajiks, Qizilbash and other Muslims. He began his military conquest by capturing Ghazni from the Ghiljis and then wresting Kabul from the local ruler, and thus strengthened his hold over Khorasan. Leadership of the various Afghan tribes rested mainly on the ability to provide booty for the clan, and Durrani proved remarkably successful in providing both booty and occupation for his followers. Apart from invading the Punjab region three times between the years 1747–1753, he captured Herat in 1750.
Durrani first crossed the Indus River in 1748, the year after his ascension – his forces sacked and absorbed Lahore. The following year (1749), the Mughal ruler was induced to cede Sindh and all of the Punjab including the vital trans Indus River to him, in order to save his capital from being attacked by the forces of the Durrani Empire. Having thus gained substantial territories to the east without a fight, Durrani and his forces turned westward to take possession of Herat, which was ruled by Nader Shah's grandson, Shah Rukh. The city fell to the Afghans in 1750, after almost a year of siege and bloody conflict; the Afghan forces then pushed on into present-day Iran, capturing Nishapur and Mashhad in 1751. Durrani then pardoned Shah Rukh and reconstituted Khorasan, but a tributary of the Durrani Empire. This marked the westernmost border of the Afghan Empire as set by the Pul-i-Abrisham, on the Mashhad-Tehran road.
Meanwhile, in the preceding three years, the Sikhs had occupied the city of Lahore, and Durrani had to return in 1751 to oust them. In 1752, Durrani and his forces invaded and reduced Kashmir. He next sent an army to subdue the areas north of the Hindu Kush. In short order, the powerful army brought under its control the Turkmen, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazaras of northern Afghanistan. The Baloch also later joined his forces. In 1752, Kashmiri nobles invited Durrani to invade the province and oust the ineffectual Mughal rulers.
Then in 1756–57, in what was his fourth invasion of India, Durrani sacked Delhi and plundered Agra, Mathura, and Vrndavana. However, he did not displace the Mughal dynasty, which remained in nominal control as long as the ruler acknowledged Durrani's suzerainty over the Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir. He installed a puppet emperor, Alamgir II, on the Mughal throne, and arranged marriages for himself and his son Timur into the imperial family that same year. He married the daughter of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. Leaving his second son Timur Shah (who was wed to the daughter of Alamgir II) to safeguard his interests, Durrani finally left India to return to Afghanistan.
In April 1757, Ahmad Shah Durrani raided Northern India for the fourth time. While he was on his way back to Kabul from Delhi with precious booty and young men and women as captives, the Sikhs made a plan to relieve him of the valuables and free the captives. The squad of baba Deep Singh was deployed near Kurukshetra. His squad freed a large number of prisoners and raided Durrani's considerable treasury. On his arrival in Lahore, Durrani, embittered by his loss, ordered the demolition of the Golden Temple in Amritsar and filled its sacred pool with the blood of slaughtered cows. During the attack Baba Deep Singh and some of his loyalists were also killed. The attack on the Golden Temple would later prove to be a major mistake. This final act was to be the start of long lasting bitterness between Sikhs and Afghans.
Third battle of Panipat
The Mughal power in northern India had been declining since the reign of Aurangzeb, who died in 1707. In 1751–52, the Ahamdiya treaty was signed between the Marathas and Mughals, when Balaji Bajirao was the Peshwa. Through this treaty, the Marathas controlled virtually the whole of India from their capital at Pune and Mughal rule was restricted only to Delhi (Mughals remained the nominal heads of Delhi). Marathas were now straining to expand their area of control towards the Northwest of India. Durrani sacked the Mughal capital and withdrew with the booty he coveted. To counter the Afghans, Peshwa Balaji Bajirao sent Raghunathrao. He succeeded in ousting Timur Shah and his court from India and brought Lahore up to the Indian side of Attock under Maratha rule. Thus, upon his return to Kandahar in 1757, amidst appeals from Muslim leaders like Shah Waliullah, Durrani chose to return to India and confront the Maratha confederacy.
in 1761 Shah Waliullah of Delhi wrote to Durrani asking him to help his brethren-in-faith against the Marathas, and warriors from various Afghan tribes joined him. The early skirmishes ended in victory for the Afghans against the Maratha garrisons in northwest India. By 1759, Durrani and his army had reached Lahore and were poised to confront the Marathas. By 1760, the Maratha groups had coalesced into a big enough army under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau. Once again, Panipat was the scene of a battle for control of northern India. The Third battle of Panipat was fought between Durrani's Muslim forces and the Maratha Hindus in January 1761, and resulted in a decisive Durrani victory.
Durrani dispatched troops to Kokand after rumours that the Qing dynasty planned to launch an expedition to Samarkand, but the alleged expedition never materialized and Ahmad Shah subsequently withdrew his forces. Durrani then sent envoys to Beijing to discuss the situation regarding the Afaqi Khojas.
Rise of the Sikhs in the Punjab
During the Third Battle of Panipat between Marathas and Durrani, the Sikhs did not engage along with the Marathas and hence are considered neutral in the war. This was because of the flawed diplomacy on the part of Marathas in not recognizing their strategic potential. The exception was Ala Singh of Patiala, who sided with the Afghans and was actually being granted and coincidentally crowned the first Sikh Maharajah at the Sikh holy temple.
Death and legacy
Durrani died on 16 October 1772 in Kandahar Province. He was buried in the city of Kandahar adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak, where a large tomb was built. It has been described in the following way:
Under the shimmering turquoise dome that dominates the sand-blown city of Kandahar lies the body of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the young Kandahari warrior who in 1747 became the region's first Durrani king. The mausoleum is covered in deep blue and white tiles behind a small grove of trees, one of which is said to cure toothache, and is a place of pilgrimage. In front of it is a small mosque with a marble vault containing one of the holiest relics in the Islamic World, a kherqa, the Sacred Cloak of Prophet Mohammed that was given to Ahmad Shah by Mured Beg, the Emir of Bokhara. The Sacred Cloak is kept locked away, taken out only at times of great crisis but the mausoleum is open and there is a constant line of men leaving their sandals at the door and shuffling through to marvel at the surprisingly long marble tomb and touch the glass case containing Ahmad Shah's brass helmet. Before leaving they bend to kiss a length of pink velvet said to be from his robe. It bears the unmistakable scent of jasmine.
In his tomb his epitaph is written:
The King of high rank, Ahmad Shah Durrani,
Was equal to Kisra in managing the affairs of his government.
In his time, from the awe of his glory and greatness,
The lioness nourished the stag with her milk.
From all sides in the ear of his enemies there arrived
A thousand reproofs from the tongue of his dagger.
The date of his departure for the house of mortality
Was the year of the Hijra 1186 (1772 A.D.)
Durrani's victory over the Marathas influenced the history of the subcontinent and, in particular, British policy in the region. His refusal to continue his campaigns deeper into India prevented a clash with the East India Company and allowed them to continue to acquire power and influence after they took complete control of Bengal in 1793. However, fear of another Afghan invasion was to haunt British policy for almost half a century after the battle of Panipat. The acknowledgment of Abdali's military accomplishments is reflected in a British intelligence report on the Battle of Panipat, which referred to Ahmad Shah as the 'King of Kings'. This fear led in 1798 to a British envoy being sent to the Persian court in part to instigate the Persians in their claims on Herat to forestall an Afghan invasion of British India. Mountstuart Elphinstone wrote of Ahmad Shah:
His military courage and activity are spoken of with admiration, both by his own subjects and the nations with whom he was engaged, either in wars or alliances. He seems to have been naturally disposed to mildness and clemency and though it is impossible to acquire sovereign power and perhaps, in Asia, to maintain it, without crimes; yet the memory of no eastern prince is stained with fewer acts of cruelty and injustice.
His successors, beginning with his son Timur and ending with Shuja Shah Durrani, proved largely incapable of governing the last Afghan empire and faced with advancing enemies on all sides. Much of the territory conquered by Ahmad Shah fell to others by the end of the 19th century. They not only lost the outlying territories but also alienated some Pashtun tribes and those of other Durrani lineages. Until Dost Mohammad Khan's ascendancy in 1826, chaos reigned in Afghanistan, which effectively ceased to exist as a single entity, disintegrating into a fragmented collection of small countries or units. This policy ensured that he did not continue on the path of other conquerors like Babur or Muhammad of Ghor and make India the base for his empire.
By blood, we are immersed in love of you.
The youth lose their heads for your sake.
I come to you and my heart finds rest.
Away from you, grief clings to my heart like a snake.
I forget the throne of Delhi
when I remember the mountain tops of my Afghan land.
If I must choose between the world and you,
I shall not hesitate to claim your barren deserts as my own.
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