Ahmad Shah Durrani
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|Ahmad Shah Durrani|
Portrait of Ahmad Shah Durrani
|Successor||Timur Shah Durrani|
|Father||Muhammad Zaman Khan Abdali|
Part of a series on the
|History of Afghanistan|
|Associated Historical Names for the Region|
Ahmad Shāh Durrānī (c.1722–1773) (Pashto/Persian:احمد شاه درانی), also known as Ahmad Shāh Abdālī (Pashto/Persian:احمد شاه ابدالي) and born as Ahmad Khān Abdālī, was the founder of the Durrani Empire and is regarded by many to be the founder of modern Afghanistan.
After the assassination of Nader Shah Afshar, he became the Amir of Khorasan and later became the founder and ruler of his own Empire. Rallying Pashtun tribes and allies, he pushed southeast towards the Punjab in Mughal India, north towards the weakening Khanate of Bukhara, and west towards the disintegrating Afsharid Empire.
Ahmad Khan (later Ahmad Shah) was born between 1722 and 1723 in either Multan or Herat. Evidence that he was born in the current Pakistani city of Multan relies upon statements by his court historian in Tarikh Ahmad Shahi (History of Ahmad Shah)  that he was taken as an infant with his mother (Zarghuna Alakozai) to the city of Herat where his father, Mohammed Zaman Khan, was chief of the Abdalis and governor of the province. On the contrary Ganda Singh and Willem Vogelsang believe that Ahmad Khan was born in Herat.
Ahmad Khan and his father were from the Sadozai section of the Popalzai clan of the Abdali Pashtuns. During his teenage years, Ahmad Khan and his elder brother, Zulfikar Khan, were imprisoned inside a fortress by Shah Hussein or Hussein Khan, the Ghilzai governor of the Kandahar Province. Shah Hussein commanded a powerful tribe of Pashtun fighters, having conquered the eastern part of Persia in 1722 with his brother Shah Mahmud, and trodden the throne of the Safavids.
In around 1731, Nader Shah Afshar, the new ruler of Persia, began enlisting the Abdali Pashtuns in his army. After conquering Kandahar in 1738, Ahmad Khan and his brother were freed by the new Persian ruler and provided careers in his administration. The Ghilzais were expelled from the city of Kandahar and the Abdalis were allowed to settle there instead.
Serving in Nader Shah's military
Nader Shah favored Abdali due to his young and handsome features. Ahmad Shah proved himself in Nader Shah's service and was promoted from a personal attendant (yasāwal) to command a cavalry of Abdali tribesmen. Ahmad quickly rose to command a cavalry contingent estimated at four thousand strong, composed chiefly of Abdalis, in the service of the Shah on his invasion of India.
Popular history has it that the brilliant but megalomaniac Nader Shah could see the talent in his young commander. Later on according to Pashtun legend, it is said that in Delhi Nader Shah summoned Ahmad Shah, and said, "Come forward Ahmad Abdali. Remember Ahmad Khan Abdali, that after me the Kingship will pass on to you.
Nader Shah's rule abruptly ended in June 1747, when he was assassinated. The Turkoman guards involved in the assassination did so secretly so as to prevent the Abdalis from coming to their King's rescue. However, Ahmad Shah was told that Nader Shah had been killed by one of his wives. Despite the danger of being attacked, the Abdali contingent led by Ahmad Shah rushed either to save Nader Shah or to confirm what happened. Upon reaching the King's tent, they were only to see Nader Shah's 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 Ahmad Shah would be their new leader, and already began calling him as Ahmad Shah.
|“||After the capture of Qandahar, Nadir Shah sent him to Mazandaran where the young Pashtun became governor. 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 rob 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
Later the same year (1747), the chiefs of the Durrani (Abdali) tribes met near Kandahar for a Loya Jirga to choose their new leader. For nine days serious discussions were held among the candidates in the Argah. Ahmad Shah kept silent by not campaigning for himself. At last Sabir Shah, a religious chief, 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 agreed unanimously. Ahmad Shah was chosen to lead the tribes. Coins where struck as his coronation as King occurred in October, 1747, near the tomb of Shaikh Surkh, adjacent to Nadir Abad Fort.
Despite being younger than other claimants, Ahmad 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 Ahmad Shah's first acts as chief was to adopt the title padshah durr-i dawran ('King, "pearl of the age").
Ahmad Shah began his military conquest by capturing Ghazni from the Ghilzai Pashtuns and then wresting Kabul from the local ruler, and thus strengthened his hold over eastern Khorasan which is most of present-day Afghanistan. Leadership of the various Afghan tribes rested mainly on the ability to provide booty for the clan, and Ahmad Shah proved remarkably successful in providing both booty and occupation for his followers. Apart from invading the Punjab three times between the years 1747–1753, he captured Herāt in 1750 and both Nishapur (Neyshābūr) and Mashhad in 1751.
Ahmad Shah first crossed the Indus river in 1748, the year after his ascension – his forces sacked and absorbed Lahore during that expedition. 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 Ahmad Shah. Having thus gained substantial territories to the east without a fight, Ahmad Shah turned westward to take possession of Herat, which was ruled by Nadir Shah's grandson, Shah Rukh of Persia. The city fell to Ahmad Shah in 1750, after almost a year of siege and bloody conflict; Ahmad Shah then pushed on into present-day Iran, capturing Nishapur and Mashhad in 1751. He then pardoned Shah Rukh and reconstituted Khurasan, but a tributary of the Durrani Empire. This marked the westernmost border of the Durrani 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 Ahmad Shah had to return in 1751 to oust them. In 1752, he 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 Hazara peoples of northern, central, and western Afghanistan. In 1752, Kashmiri nobles invited Ahmed Shah Durrani to invade the province and oust the ineffectual Mughal rulers.
Then in 1756/57, in what was his fourth invasion of India, Ahmad Shah 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 Ahmad'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. His de facto suzerainity was accepted by the East India Company. Leaving his second son Timur Shah (who was wed to the daughter of (Alamgir II) to safeguard his interests, Ahmad finally left India to return to Afghanistan.
On his way back he attacked the Golden Temple in Amristar and filled its sarovar (sacred pool) with the blood of slaughtered cows and people. Ahmad Shah captured Amritsar (1757), and sacked the Harmandir Sahib popularly known as the Golden Temple. 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. Ahmad Shah 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, Multan, Kashmir and other subahs on the Indian side of Attock under Maratha rule. Thus, upon his return to Kandahar in 1757, Amidst appeals from Muslim leaders like Shah Waliullah, Ahmad Shah chose to return to India and confront the Maratha Confederacy.
He declared a jihad (Islamic holy war) against the Marathas, and warriors from various Pashtun tribes, as well as other tribes such as the Baloch, Tajiks, and Muslims from South Asia answered his call. Early skirmishes ended in victory for the Afghans against the smaller Maratha garrisons in Northwest India. By 1759, Ahmad Shah 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 (January 1761), fought between largely Muslim and largely Hindu armies was waged along a twelve-kilometre front, and resulted in a decisive victory for Ahmad Shah.
East Turkistan and the Uyghurs
Plagued by the plight of the Uyghurs whose lands were conquered by the warring Qing dynasty, Ahmad Shah laboriously attempted to rally Muslim nations to check Qing expansion. Ahmad Shah halted trade with Qing China and dispatched troops to Kokand. However, with his campaigns in India exhausting the state treasury, and with his troops stretched thin throughout Central Asia, Ahmad Shah did not have enough resources to check Qing forces. In an effort to alleviate the situation in East Turkistan, Ahmad Shah sent envoys to Beijing, but the talks did not yield favorable prospects for the Uyghurs.
Decline and the Sikhs
The Sikhs had occupied the city of Lahore, and Ahmad Shah had to return in 1751 to oust them. In 1752, he 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 Hazara peoples of northern, central, and western Afghanistan.
Then in 1756/57, in what was his fourth invasion of India, Ahmad Shah 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 Ahmad'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, Ahmad finally left India to return to Afghanistan. On his way back, he attacked the Golden Temple in Amritsar and filled its sarovar (sacred pool) with the blood of slaughtered people. Golden Temple is to the Sikhs what Mecca is to the Muslims hence his transgressions were of great proportion. Ahmad Shah captured Amritsar (1757), and sacked the Harmandir Sahib popularly known as the Golden Temple. This final act was to be the start of long lasting bitterness between Sikhs and Afghans.
The victory at Panipat was the high point of Ahmad Shah's and Afghan power. His empire was among the largest Islamic empires in the world at that time. However, this situation was not to last long; the empire soon began to unravel. As early as by the end of 1761, the Sikhs had begun to rebel in much of the Punjab. In 1762, Ahmad Shah crossed the passes from Afghanistan for the sixth time to crush the Sikhs. He assaulted Lahore and Amritsar. Within two years, the Sikhs rebelled again, and he launched another campaign against them in 1764, resulting in a even battle. During his 8th Invasion of India, the Sikhs vacated Lahore, but faced Abdali's army and general, Jahan Khan. The fear of his Indian empire falling to the Sikhs continued to obsess the Ahmad Shah Abdali's mind and he let out another campaign against Sikhs towards the close of 1766. This was his eighth invasion into India. The Sikhs had recourse to their old game of hide and seek. They vacated Lahore, but faced squarely the Afghan general, Jahan Khan at Amritsar, annihilating the Afghans, with six thousand of Abdali's soldiers killed. Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with an army of about twenty thousand Sikhs roamed in the neighbourhood of the Afghan camp plundering it to his heart's content.
In the spring of 1761, Ahmad Shah, returned to Kabul; and from that period, up to the spring of 1773, was actively employed against foreign and domestic foes; but at that time his health, which had been long declining, continued to get worse, and prevented his engaging in any foreign expeditions. His complaint was a cancer in the face, which had afflicted him first in 1764, and at last occasioned his death. He died at Murghah, in Afghanistan, in the beginning of June 1773, at about fifty years of age. He was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah Durrani.
Administration and government
He used to hold, at stated periods, what is termed a Majlis-e-Ulema, or Assembly of the Learned, the early part of which was generally devoted to divinity and civil law-for Ahmad Shah himself was a Molawi and concluded with conversations on science and poetry. He as a rule did not interfere with the tribes or their customs as long as they did not interfere with his ambitions.
Ahmad Shah'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 their acquisition of Bengal in 1757. 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 counteract Afghan militarism.
His successors, beginning with his son Timur and ending with Shuja Shah Durrani, proved largely incapable of governing the Durrani empire and faced with advancing enemies on all sides it was at an end within 50 years of Ahmad Shah's death. Much of the territory conquered by Ahmad Shah fell to others in this half century. By 1818, Ahmad Shah heirs controlled little more than Kabul and the surrounding territory. They not only lost the outlying territories but also alienated other 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 units. This policy ensured that he did not continue on the path of other conquerors like Babur or Mohammad Ghori and make India the base for his empire.
The most important historical monument in Kandahar is the mausoleum of Ahmad Shah Durrani. 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:
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.||”|
- 1722: Ahmad Shah is born as Ahmad Khan in Multan or Herat.
- 1739: At the age of 16, Ahmad Shah commands a 4,000-strong cavalry contingent in support of Nader Shah's invasion of India.
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- Invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali
- Detailed genealogy of the Durrani dynasty
- Famous Diamonds: The Koh-I-Noor
- Abdali Tribe History
- Chronology: from the emergence of the Afghan Kingdom to the Mission of Mountstuart Elphistone, 1747-1809
- Afghan Invaders and Waris Shah (Archived 2009-10-24)
- The story of the Koh-i Noor
Nadir Shah of Persia
| Padshah of the Durrani Empire