Sunday, December 30, 2007


Ahmad Shah Durrani

Ahmad Shah (1722-72), Abdali Durrani. First Emir of Afghanistan and founder of the Sadozai dynasty of the Abdali tribe. In October 1747 elected King (Shah) of Afghanistan by an assembly of Pashtun chiefs the new leader of the Afghans changed his title from khan (chief) to shah (king in Persian) and assumed the name Durrani (Pearl of Pearls). Immediately he began to consolidate and enlarge his kingdom. He seized Kabul. He wrested from the Moghuls their territories west of the Indus. The Pashtun tribesmen rallied to his banner, and Ahmad Shah led them on nine campaigns into India in search of booty and territorial conquest. He added Kashmir, Sind, and the Western Punjab to his domains and founded an empire which extended from eastern Persia to northern India and from the Ammu Darya to the Indian Ocean. In 1756 he occupied Delhi and carried off as much wealth as possible, thereby enriching his treasury. By 1761, his kingdom was larger than present Afghanistan.

He led a contingent of his tribesmen in the service of Nadir Shah, king of Persia, who won control of most of Afghanistan and part of India. When Nadir died, Ahmad founded an independent Afghan kingdom. He invaded the Indian Punjab six times between 1748 and 1752, and he seized and sacked Delhi. In 1761 he defeated an Indian army at Panipat, India. Although he was a powerful military leader, Ahmad never succeeded in permanently ruling India; he subsequently withdrew into Afghanistan.

Ahmad Shah was an outstanding general and a just ruler. He governed with the help of a council of chiefs, each responsible for his own people. Thus all matters of national issues were centralized, but each chief ruled his own tribe. This kind of arrangement won the support of the people, and was prevailing political pattern in Afghanistan until the monarchy ended in 1973. Ahmad Shah's vast realm soon broke apart. Afghans were better fighters than administrators.

Ahmad Shah left twenty-three sons, but failed to nominate an heir. Ahmad Shah died of a natural death in April 1772. During the next 25 years the royal princes plotted and intrigued for possession of the Afghan throne while their empire fell apart around them. Three different brothers briefly secured the throne, one of them twice, each soon falling victim to one another, but extended to their royal supporters and advisors. In 1818, the youngest of the Mohammadzai sons, Dost Mohammad, challenged and defeated Shah Mahmud of the Sadozai family near Kabul.

The Durrani Empire was a large state that included territories within modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Khorasan province of Iran and a smaller section of western India. It was a monarchy, ruled from 1747 until 1823 by Ahmed Shah Durrani and his descendants. They were from the Sadozai line of the Abdali (later Durrani) Pashtans, making them the second Pashtun rulers of Kandahar, after the Ghilzai.[4]

The Durrani Empire is often considered the origin of the state of Afghanistan. Even before the death of Nadir Shah of Persia, tribes in Afghanistan had been growing stronger and were beginning to take advantage of the waning power of their distant rulers.

Nadir Shah's rule ended in June 1747, when he was assassinated. The assassination was likely enough planned by his nephew Ali Qoli, though there is little factual evidence to support this theory. Nonetheless, when the chiefs of the Afghans met later the same year near Kandahar at a Loya jirga (council) to choose a new ruler for the Abdali confederation, Ahmad Shah Durrani was chosen. Despite being younger than other claimants, Ahmad had several overriding factors in his favor:

He was a direct descendant of Sado, patriarch of the Sadozai clan, the most prominent tribe amongst the Pashtun peoples 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;

Not least, he possessed a substantial part of Nadir Shah's treasury.

One of Ahmad Shah's first acts as chief was to adopt the title "Durr-i-Durrani" ("pearl of pearls" or "pearl of the age"). The name may have been suggested, as some claim, from a dream dreamt by Ahmad Shah, or as others claim, from the pearl earrings worn by the royal guard of Nadir Shah. The Abdali Pashtuns were known thereafter as the Durrani, and the name of the Abdali confederation was changed to Durrani.

Early victories

Ahmad Shah began his rule by capturing Ghazni from the Ghilzais, and then wresting Kabul from the local ruler. In 1749, the Mughal ruler was induced to cede Sindh, the Punjab region and west of the Indus River to Ahmad Shah in order to save his capital from Afghan attack. 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. Herat fell to Ahmad after almost a year of siege and bloody conflict, as did Mashhad (in present-day Iran). Ahmad 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 Turkmen, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara tribes of northern Afghanistan. Ahmad invaded the remnants of the Mughal Empire a third time, and then a fourth, consolidating control over the Punjab and Kashmir regions. Then, early in 1757, he sacked Delhi, 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.

Third Battle of Panipat

The Mughal power in northern India had been declining since the reign of Aurangzeb, who died in 1707; the Marathas, who already controlled much of western and central India from their capital at Pune, were straining to expand their area of control. After Ahmad Shah sacked the Mughal capital and withdrew with the booty he coveted, the Marathas filled the power void, while in the Punjab, the Sikhs emerged as a potent force. Upon his return to Kandahar in 1757, Ahmad was forced to return to India and face the formidable attacks of the Maratha Confederacy, which succeeded in ousting Timur Shah and his court from India.

Ahmad Shah declared a jihad (or Islamic holy war) against the Marathas, and warriors from various Pashtun tribes, as well as other tribes such as the Baloch, Tajiks, and Muslims in India, answered his call. Early skirmishes were followed by victory for the Afghans, and by 1759 Ahmad and his army had reached Lahore and were poised to confront the Marathas. By 1760, the Maratha groups had coalesced into a great army that probably outnumbered Ahmad Shah's forces. Once again, Panipat was the scene of a confrontation between two warring contenders for control of northern India. The Third Battle of Panipat (January 1761), fought between largely Muslim and largely Hindu armies who numbered as many as 100,000 troops each was waged along a twelve-kilometer front. Despite decisively defeating the Marathas, what might have been Ahmad Shah's peaceful control of his domains was disrupted by other challenges.

The victory at Panipat was the high point of Ahmad Shah's -- and Afghan -- power. His Durrani empire was one of the largest Islamic empires in the world at that time. However, even prior to his death, the empire began to unravel. As early as by the end of 1761, the Sikhs had gained power and taken control of much of the Punjab. In 1762, Ahmad Shah crossed the passes from Afghanistan for the sixth time to subdue the Sikhs. He assaulted Lahore and, after taking their holy city of Amritsar, massacred thousands of Sikh inhabitants, destroying their temples and desecrating their holy places with cow's blood. Within two years, the Sikhs rebelled again. Ahmad Shah tried several more times to subjugate the Sikhs permanently, but failed. By the time of his death, he had lost all but nominal control of the Punjab to the Sikhs, who remained in charge of the area until defeated by the British in the First Anglo-Sikh War in 1846.

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. In 1772, Ahmad Shah retired to his home in the mountains east of Kandahar, where he died. 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.

By the time of Ahmad Shah's ascendancy, the Pashtuns included many groups whose origins were obscure; some believed they descended from ancient Aryan tribes, but some, such as the Ghilzai, may have intermingled with Turks, while others such as the Durrani became Persianized due to their contacts with the Tajiks. What they had in common was their Pashto language and the belief in common ancestry that sometimes united them. To the east, the Waziris and their close relatives, the Mahsuds, had lived in the hills of the central Sulaiman Mountains since the 14th century. By the end of the 16th century, when the final Turkish-Mongol invasions occurred, tribes such as the Shinwaris, Yusufzais and Mohmands had moved from the upper Kabul River valley into the valleys and plains west, north, and northeast of Peshawar. The Afridis had long been established in the hills and mountain ranges south of the Khyber Pass. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Durranis had blanketed the area west and north of Kandahar and were to be found as far east as Quetta, Baluchistan.

Other Durrani rulers (1772-1823)

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 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 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 became particularly troublesome, and after several unsuccessful efforts to subdue them, Zaman Shah made the mistake of appointing a forceful young Sikh chief, Ranjit Singh, as his governor in the Punjab. This "one-eyed" warrior would later become an implacable enemy of Pashtun rulers in Afghanistan.

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 Durrani (first reign, 1801-1803)

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.

Shah Shuja Durrani(1803-1809)

Yet another of Timur Shah's sons, Shah Shuja, ruled for only six years. On June 7, 1809, Shuja 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.