Mughal–Safavid War (1649–53)
|Part of Mughal–Persian Wars|
|Khanate of Bukhara||Mughal Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
Abbas II of Persia|
|Casualties and losses|
The Mughal–Safavid War of 1649–1653 was fought between the Mughal and Safavid empires in the territory of modern Afghanistan. While the Mughals were at war with the Janid Uzbeks, the Safavid army captured the fortress city of Kandahar and other strategic cities that controlled the region. The Mughals attempted unsuccessfully to regain the city.
The Safavids had territorial claims over Kandahar since the reign of Shah Tahmasp. The overthrow of Humayun, the Mughal Emperor, is known to have gained the support of Shah Tahmasp in return for his permission to allow the Safavids to capture Kandahar. Subsequently, conflicts emerged in the region during the reign of another Mughal emperor, Jahangir.
Since 1638, when the Kurdish turncoat Ali Mardan Khan handed Kandahar over to Shah Jahan, both Kabul and Kandahar were under Mughal control. It was considered vital for the Mughal empire that the twin ‘gateway-cities’ to Hindustan, i.e. Kabul and Kandahar, be brought under Mughal rule, for two primary reasons. Firstly, the Mughal kingdom in India was often viewed by them as a painfully small compensation for the loss of their homeland – Samarkand – which they had been driven out of by the Uzbeks. Beyond the internal administrative agendas, the Mughals always kept it a priority to expand the western frontier of the empire in the sentiment of ¬reconquista¬. Secondly, Central Asian trade provided the Mughals with warhorses, without which not only the military forces would be incapacitated, but could also potentially spark tribal revolts and foreign invasions. Kandahar in particular was at the crossroads of a number of major commercial trade routes in Central Asia. The two cities were thus the subject of deep strategic concern.
In February 1646, Shah Jahan dispatched an army of 60,000 to Kabul, and thence to Badakshan and Balkh, with his son Murad Baksh as the commander-in-chief. This was done in support of Nazr Muhammad and his son, Abd al-Aziz, against the Toqai-Timurid ruler of Balkh. However, Nazr Muhammad and Abd al-Aziz betrayed the Mughals after the end of the campaign, and fleed to Isfahan. The subsequent Balkh campaign in 1647 against them was led by Aurangzeb, and cost the Mughal empire 20 million rupees along with the recently acquired Balkh and Badakshan.
In 1639, the armies of Shah Safi of Persia captured Bamyan and it appeared that they would attack Kandahar next. Shah Jahan, assisted by Kamran Khanand Malik Maghdood, had marched on Kandahar and negotiated the surrender from the Persian commander, Ali Mardan Khan, in 1638. He expected the Persians to attempt to regain the city soon and so he ordered that the wall be repaired rapidly while a large Mughal army based in Kabul protected the area. When no Persian attack came, in 1646 the Emperor sent his son, Murad Baksh, to invade Uzbek-controlled Badakhshan. In the following year, Aurangzeb, another son, routed an Uzbek force outside of Balkh and captured the city. Though victorious in the field, the Mughals were unable to secure the conquered territories and Shah Jahan was forced to recall his armies from Badakhshan.
Encouraged by the Mughal reversal in Badakhshan, in the summer of 1648 Shah Abbas II marched from Isfahan with an army of 40,000. After capturing Bost he laid siege to Kandahar and easily captured it after a brief siege on 22 February 1649. The disaster of the Balkh campaign had gravely weakened the Mughals’ position on the frontier. The short duration of the Kandahar siege – two months – stands testament to the vulnerability of the Mughals in Afghanistan. The Mughals attempted to retake the city in 1651 but the arrival of winter forced them to suspend the siege.
Sieges of Kandahar
Shah Jahan sent Aurangzeb with 50,000 soldiers to recapture it, but although he defeated the Safavids outside the city he was unable to take it. His artillery train proved unable for the task. Aurangzeb attempted to take the fortress city again in 1652. Abdul Aziz, Khan of Bukhara, had entered into an alliance with Shah Abbas and in May 1652, he dispatched 10,000 troops to Kabul in May to harass the Mughal supply lines. Though not strong enough to lift the siege, the Uzbeks endangered a Mughal convoy of 2,000 who were escorting one and a half million silver coins to the besieger's army at Kandahar. After two months of fighting Persian resistance and the growing activities of the Uzbeks, Aurangzeb was forced to abandon the campaign.
In 1653 Shah Jahan sent Dara Shikoh, with a large army and two of the heaviest artillery pieces of the empire, but after a five-month siege the Mughals couldn't manage to starve the city, and the attempt to breach their walls by cannon fire also failed. The Mughals finally gave up all attempts to recover Kandahar.
Role of Environment and Climate
The tribes of the region of the Hindu Kush were often rebellious and had to be constantly pacified, disciplined, or eliminated. Their raids of Mughal supply lines and advance parties were disastrous for the army. At times these groups of fighters were independent, and at other times, they worked in coordination with the Uzbeks. Acquiring cash for the army was intensely difficult due to the differences in the monetary infrastructures between Mughal India and Afghanistan, hence the army was forced to lug bullion and cash across the steep passes and narrow defiles of the Hindu Kush mountains.
Further, the terrain and climate of the Hindu Kush and beyond is infamously debilitating. Neither raiding areas nor acquiring land revenue from the conquered areas was by any means extravagantly rewarding to the soldiers, due to the moderate agricultural production of the area. There was no equivalent of the Indian local grain-carriers, the Banjaras. There was also very little scope for foraging with the constant raids from Uzbek troops and resident tribal groups. The ferocity of the Afghan winter further added to these woes. Winter months meant a severe severance of transport across the Hindu Kush, something which was instrumental in the failure of several Mughal campaigns against the Safavids in Central Asia.
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