Durrani Empire

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This article is about the "Durrani Empire". For Durrani dynasty, see Durrani dynasty.
Durrani Empire
د درانیانو ټولواکمني







The Durrani Empire
Capital Kandahar
(1776–1823, 1839–1842)
(1776–1818; winter capital)[1][2]
Languages Pashto
Religion Islam
Government Absolute monarchy
 -  1747–1772 Ahmad Shah Durrani (first)
 -  1839–1842 Shuja Shah Durrani (last)
Historical era Early modern period
 -  Established October 1747
 -  Disestablished 1826
Today part of  Afghanistan

The Durrani Empire, Durrani Tolwakmani, Durrani Wakmani, Durrani Emirate (Pashto: د درانیانو واکمني‎), also called the Sadozai Kingdom and the Last Afghan Empire,[4] was founded in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani with its capital at Kandahar, Afghanistan.[5][6] The Durrani Empire at its maximum extent encompassed present-day Afghanistan, northeastern Iran, eastern Turkmenistan (including the Panjdeh oasis), most of Pakistan, and northwestern India, including the Kashmir region. Durrani's Pashtun soldiers also instigated the Sikh holocaust of 1762 when they killed thousands of Sikhs in the Punjab.[7][8][9] With the support of various tribal leaders, Ahmad Shah Durrani with his Baloch allies extended Afghan control from Khorasan in the west to Kashmir and Delhi in the east, and from the Amu Darya in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south.[10][11] In the second half of the 18th century, the Durrani Empire was the second-greatest Muslim empire, surpassed in size only by the Ottoman Empire.[11]

The Afghan army began their conquests by capturing Ghazni and Kabul from the local rulers. In 1749 the Mughal ruler ceded sovereignty over what is now Pakistan and northwestern India to the Afghans. Ahmad Shah then set out westward to take possession of Herat, which was ruled by Shahrukh Afshar. He next sent an army to subdue the areas north of the Hindu Kush and in short order all the different tribes began joining his cause. Ahmad Shah and his forces invaded India four times, taking control of the Kashmir and the Punjab region. Early in 1757, he sacked Delhi, but permitted the Mughal dynasty to remain in nominal control as long as the ruler acknowledged Ahmad Shah's suzerainty over the Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir.[12]

After the death of Ahmad Shah in about 1772, his son Timur Shah became the next ruler of the Durrani dynasty who decided to make Kabul the new capital of the empire, and used Peshawar as the winter capital. The Durrani Empire is considered the foundation of the modern state of Afghanistan,[13] with Ahmad Shah Durrani being credited as "Father of the Nation". The film Bang Bang! briefly mentions the Durrani Empire's reign in India.[2][12]

Reign of Ahmad Shah Durrani (1747–1772)[edit]

In 1709 Mir Wais Hotak, chief of the Ghilji tribe of Kandahar Province, gained independence from the Safavid Persians. From 1722 to 1725, his son Mahmud Hotak briefly ruled large parts of Iran and declared himself as Shah of Persia. However, the Hotak dynasty came to a complete end in 1738 after being toppled and banished by the Afsharids who were led by Nader Shah Afshar of Persia.

The year 1747 marks the definitive appearance of an Afghan political entity independent of both the Persian and Mughal empires.[14] In October 1747 a loya jirga (grand council) concluded near the city of Kandahar with Ahmad Shah Durrani being selected as the new leader of the Afghans, thus the Durrani dynasty was founded. Despite being younger than the other contenders, Ahmad Shah had several overriding factors in his favor. He belonged to a respectable family of political background, especially since his father served as Governor of Herat who died in a battle defending the Afghans. He also had a well-trained larger army and possessed a substantial part of Nadir Shah's treasury, including the world's largest Koh-i-Noor diamond.[11]

Early victories[edit]

One of Ahmad Shah's first military action was the capture Ghazni from the Ghiljis, and then wresting Kabul from the local ruler. In 1749, the Mughal ruler was induced to cede Sindh, the Punjab region and the important trans Indus River to Ahmad Shah in order to save his capital from Afghan attack.[15] Having thus gained substantial territories to the east without a fight, Ahmad Shah turned westward to take possession of Herat, which was ruled by Nader Shah Afshar's grandson, Shah Rukh of Persia. Ahmad Shah next sent an army to subdue the areas north of the Hindu Kush mountains. In short order, the powerful army brought under its control the Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, and other tribes of northern Afghanistan. Ahmad Shah invaded the remnants of the Mughal Empire a third time, and then a fourth, consolidating control over the Kashmir and Punjab regions, with Lahore being governed by Afghans. He sacked Delhi in 1757, but permitted the Mughal dynasty to remain in nominal control of the city as long as the ruler acknowledged Ahmad Shah's suzerainty over Punjab, Sindh, and Kashmir. Leaving his second son Timur Shah to safeguard his interests, Ahmad Shah left India to return to Afghanistan.

Relations with China[edit]

Alarmed by the expansion of China's Qing Dynasty up to the western border of Kazakhstan, Ahmad Shah attempted to rally neighboring Muslim khanates and the Kazakhs to unite and attack China, ostensibly to liberate its western Muslim subjects.[16] Ahmad Shah halted trade with Qing China and dispatched troops to Kokand.[17] However, with his campaigns in India exhausting the state treasury, and with his troops stretched thin throughout Central Asia, Ahmad Shah lacked sufficient resources to do anything except to send envoys to Beijing for unsuccessful talks.

Campaign against the Maratha Confederacy[edit]

Soldiers of the Durrani Empire.

After defeating the Mughal emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur during the First Battle of Sikandarabad (1754), the Marathas began to extend their demands for Chauth and Sardeshmukhi over virtually the whole of India, their interests were secured within Delhi by Feroze Jung III (a rogue Vizier, who had Ahmad Shah Bahadur tortured and blinded; then crowning the religiously devout princely prisoner Alamgir II as emperor).

Ahmad Shah Durrani secured what he considered territories granted to him by Ahmad Shah Bahadur since 1753, and his forces appointed his son Timur Shah Durrani as the new viceroy at Lahore, under the protection of the commander Jahan Khan and also placed Adina Beg as the Faujdar of Doab in late 1756. Ahmad Shah Durrani then plundered Sikh and Hindu inhabitants in the unstable and outlawed eastern regions of the Punjab.[18]

He then marched towards Delhi, in October 1757, the Mughal Emperor Alamgir II with courtiers such as Shah Waliullah Dehlawi, nobles such as Najib ad-Dawlah, and the imperial family went to meet Ahmad Shah Durrani. To cease any sense of hostility a matrimonial alliance was arranged between the Timurids and the Abdalis: Timur Shah Durrani married Gauhar Afroz Begam the daughter of the Mughal emperor Alamgir II; and sister of Shahzada Ali Gauhar in February 1757[19] and Ahmad Shah Durrani married Hazrat Begum the daughter of the deceased Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah; and sister of the crippled and imprisoned Ahmad Shah Bahadur.[20]

Ahmad Shah Durrani then occupied Delhi, and dissolved the authority of the incumbent Vizier, Feroze Jung III and declared him an apostate for his plenipotentiary connections to the Balaji Baji Rao. His forces plundered the city and secured their new ally Alamgir II under the protection of Najib ud-Daulah.[18]

Displeased by the overthrow of the puppet Vizier and the new-found Mughal-Durrani alliance, Balaji Baji Rao sent his brother Raghunathrao and Malhar Rao Holkar to reoccupy the imperial capitol during the Battle of Delhi (1757), and later advance against Timur Shah Durrani in Lahore, causing his forces to withdraw westwards of Attock in 1758.[21][22]

In 1759, Ahmad Shah Durrani had amassed a formidable army of to counterattack the Maratha Confederacy, advancing as far as Sirhind on 27 November 1759,[23] two days later the incumbent Mughal emperor Alamgir II, was assassinated by Feroze Jung III, within the Maratha occupied city of Delhi.[24] This caused Balaji Baji Rao to hype his intentions of completely abolishing the Mughal Empire and placing Vishwasrao on the imperial throne.[25]

Sadashivrao Bhau commander of the Maratha Confederacy, confirmed Jahan Shah III (an ally of Feroze Jung III, and widely considered usurper) as the new Mughal Emperor and began a campaign of plundering the Jewels and ornaments of the Mughal imperial court, he also defaced mosques, tombs and shrines that the Mughals had built in Agra and Delhi, he then desecrated the imperial Moti Masjid and looted its exquisite jeweled decorations into booty for the ravaging Marathas.[26]

Ahmad Shah Durrani declared the ongoing conflict to be a Religious war and was perceived as a savior by the Muslim aristocracy, they assured the internecine of their divisions and rallied towards the Afghan ruler.[27] By late 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 confrontation between two warring contenders for control of the entire region.

Ahmad Shah Durrani and his coalition decisively defeat the Maratha Confederacy, during the Third Battle of Panipat and restored the Mughal Empire to Shah Alam II.[28]

Third Battle of Panipat, was a military confrontation between the Maratha Confederacy (including its vast Pindari factions) and the coalition gathered by the Durrani Emirate (consisting of the: Nawab of Najibabad, Nawab of Oudh, Nawab of Farrukhabad, Regents of Rohilkhand, Tajik[29] and Baloch tribes,[30] Qizilbash mercenaries; and a substantial reliance upon Afghan warriors).

The battle was a decisive victory for Ahmad Shah Durrani, thus securing the nomination and reign the dormant Mughal emperor Shah Alam II (who was distant in the Eastern Subah's campaigning to regain his empire's wealthiest provinces).[31]

Later campaigns[edit]

The victory at Panipat was the high point of Ahmad Shah's—and Afghan—power. His Durrani empire was the second largest Islamic empire in the world, behind the Ottoman Empire at that time.[32] However, even prior to his death, the empire began to unravel. In 1762, Ahmad Shah crossed the passes from Afghanistan for the sixth time to subdue the Sikhs. From this time and on, the domination and control of the Empire began to loosen.[33] He assaulted Lahore and, after taking their holy city of Amritsar, massacred thousands of Sikh inhabitants, destroying their revered Golden Temple.[34] Within two years, the Sikhs rebelled again and rebuilt their holy city of Amritsar in the decades that followed.

Final years[edit]

Securing both the realms of the Durrani Empire and the Emirate of Bukhara[edit]

Ahmad Shah also faced other rebellions in the north, and eventually he and the Uzbek Emir of Bukhara agreed that the Amu Darya would mark the division of their lands.

Shah Alam II resorts to accepting Mahadji Scindia as his subject[edit]

Shah Alam II and his forces were defeated during the Battle of Buxar, causing him to finally reconcile with Mahadji Scindia (a subject of the Peshwa and later of Shah Alam II[35]) together they reentered Delhi in 1771, however the Maratha presence in the imperial court would cause them to exact past grievances violently from the Regents of Rohilkhand and lead to internal hostilities that would cause the demise of Shah Alam II's reign.


Ahmad Shah retired to his home in the mountains east of Kandahar, where he died on April 14, 1773.[36] He had succeeded to a remarkable degree in balancing tribal alliances and hostilities, and in directing tribal energies away from rebellion. He earned recognition as Ahmad Shah Baba, or "Father" of Afghanistan.[2][12]

Other Durrani rulers (1772–1826)[edit]

City of Kandahar, its principal bazaar and citadel, taken from the Nakkara Khauna

Ahmad Shah's successors governed so ineptly during a period of profound unrest that within fifty years of his death, the Durrani empire per se was at an end, and Afghanistan was embroiled in civil war. Much of the territory conquered by Ahmad Shah fell to others in this half century. By 1818, the Sadozai rulers who succeeded Ahmad Shah controlled little more than Kabul and the surrounding territory within a 160-kilometer radius. They not only lost the outlying territories but also alienated other tribes and lineages among the Durrani Pashtuns.

Timur Shah (1772–1793)[edit]

Main article: Timur Shah Durrani

Ahmad Shah was succeeded by his son, Timur Shah, who had been deputed to administer his fathers conquests in Northern India, but had been driven out by the Marathas. Upon Ahmad Shah's death, the Durrani chieftains only reluctantly accepted Timur's accession. Most of his reign was spent fighting a civil war and resisting rebellion; Timur was even forced to move his capital from Kandahar to Kabul due to insurgency. Timur Shah proved an ineffectual ruler, during whose reign the Durrani empire began to crumble. He is notable for having had 24 sons, several of whom became rulers of the Durrani territories. Timur died in 1793, and was then succeeded by his fifth son Zaman Shah

Zaman Shah (1793–1801)[edit]

Main article: Zaman Shah Durrani

After the death of Timur Shah, three of his sons, the governors of Kandahar, Herat and Kabul, contended for the succession. Zaman Shah, governor of Kabul, held the field by virtue of being in control of the capital, and became shah at the age of twenty-three. Many of his half-brothers were imprisoned on their arrival in the capital for the purpose, ironically, of electing a new shah. The quarrels among Timur's descendants that threw Afghanistan into turmoil also provided the pretext for the intervention of outside forces.

The efforts of the Sadozai heirs of Timur to impose a true monarchy on the truculent Pashtun tribes, and their efforts to rule absolutely and without the advice of the other major Pashtun tribal leaders, were ultimately unsuccessful. The Sikhs started rising to power in defence of the years of invasions of Punjab by the Afghanis. Zaman Shah was unsuccessful in subduing them. A young Sikh chief, Ranjit Singh, then succeeded in vesting power from Zaman's forces. Later when Zaman was blinded by his brother, it was Ranjit Singh who gave him asylum in Punjab.

Zaman's downfall was triggered by his attempts to consolidate power. Although it had been through the support of the Barakzai chief, Painda Khan Barakzai, that he had come to the throne, Zaman soon began to remove prominent Barakzai leaders from positions of power and replace them with men of his own lineage, the Sadozai. This upset the delicate balance of Durrani tribal politics that Ahmad Shah had established and may have prompted Painda Khan and other Durrani chiefs to plot against the shah. Painda Khan and the chiefs of the Nurzai and the Alizai Durrani clans were executed, as was the chief of the Qizilbash clan. Painda Khan's son fled to Iran and pledged the substantial support of his Barakzai followers to a rival claimant to the throne, Zaman's older brother, Mahmud Shah. The clans of the chiefs Zaman had executed joined forces with the rebels, and they took Kandahar without bloodshed.

Mahmud Shah (first reign, 1801–1803)[edit]

Main article: Mahmud Shah Durrani

Zeman Shah's overthrow in 1801 was not the end of civil strife in Afghanistan, but the beginning of even greater violence. Mahmud Shah's first reign lasted for only two years before he was replaced by Shuja Shah.

Shuja Shah (1803–1809 and 1839–1842)[edit]

Main article: Shuja Shah Durrani

Yet another of Timur Shah's sons, Shuja Shah (or Shah Shuja), ruled for only six years. On June 7, 1809, Shuja Shah signed a treaty with the British, which included a clause stating that he would oppose the passage of foreign troops through his territories. This agreement, the first Afghan pact with a European power, stipulated joint action in case of Franco-Persian aggression against Afghan or British dominions. Only a few weeks after signing the agreement, Shuja was deposed by his predecessor, Mahmud. Much later, he was reinstated by the British, ruling during 1839–1842. Two of his sons also ruled for a brief period in 1842.

Mahmud Shah (second reign, 1809–1818)[edit]

Main article: Mahmud Shah Durrani

Mahmud's second reign lasted nine years. Mahmud alienated the Barakzai, especially Fateh Khan, the son of Painda Khan, who was eventually seized and blinded. Revenge would later be sought and obtained by Fateh Khan's youngest brother, Dost Mohammad Khan.

Sultan Ali Shah (1818–1819)[edit]

Main article: Ali Shah Durrani

Ali Shah was another son of Timur Shah. He seized power for a brief period in 1818-19.

Ayub Shah (1819–1823)[edit]

Main article: Ayub Shah Durrani
The main street in the bazaar at Kabul.

Ayub Shah was another son of Timur Shah, who deposed Sultan Ali Shah. He was himself later deposed, and presumably killed in 1823. The loss of Kashmir during his reign opened a new chapter in South Asian history.


  1. ^ Hanifi, Shah Mahmoud. "Timur Shah transferred the Durrani capital from Qandahar in 1775-76. Kabul and Peshawar then shared time as the dual Durrani capital cities, the former during the summer and the latter during the winter season." p. 185. Connecting Histories in Afghanistan: Market Relations and State Formation on a Colonial Frontier. Stanford University Press, 2011. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
  2. ^ a b c Singh, Sarina (2008). "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." p. 191. Pakistan and the Karakoram Highway. Retrieved 2012-08-10.
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  • Malleson, George Bruce (1879) History of Afghanistan, from the Earliest Period to the Outbreak of the War of 1878 W.H. Allen & Co., London, OCLC 4219393, limited view at Google Books
  • Singh, Ganda (1959) Ahmad Shah Durrani: Father of Modern Afghanistan Asia Publishing House, London, OCLC 4341271
  • Fraser-Tytler, William Kerr (1953) Afghanistan: A Study of Political Developments in Central and Southern Asia Oxford University Press, London, OCLC 409453
  • Tanner, Stephen (2002) Afghanistan : a military history from Alexander the Great to the fall of the Taliban Da Capo Press, New York, ISBN 0-306-81164-2, also available from NetLibrary
  • Elphinstone, Mountstuart 1779-1859 An account of the kingdom of Caubul, and its dependencies in Persia, Tartary and India : comprising a view of the Afghaun nation and a history of the Dooraunee monarchy.London : Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1815. Available in digital formats from the Internet Archive Digital Library [1] [2]

See also[edit]

Indian Campaign of Ahmad Shah Durrani

External links[edit]