of Ahmad Shah (1747-1772)
In 1747 Ahmad Shah and his Abdali horsemen joined the chiefs of the
Abdali tribes and clans near Kandahar to choose a leader. Despite
being younger than other claimants, Ahmad had several overriding
factors in his favor. He was a direct descendant of Sado, eponym of
the Sadozai; he was unquestionably a charismatic leader and seasoned
warrior who had at his disposal a trained, mobile force of several
thousand cavalrymen; and he possessed 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"), which may have come from
a dream or from the pearl earrings worn by the royal guard of Nadir
Shah. The Abdali Pashtuns were known thereafter as the Durrani.
Ahmad Shah began by capturing Ghazni from the Ghilzai Pashtuns, and
then wresting Kabul from the local ruler. In 1749 the Mughal ruler
ceded sovereignty over Sindh Province and the areas of northern
India west of the Indus River to Ahmad Shah in order to save his
capital from Afghan attack. Ahmad Shah then set out westward to take
possession of Herat, which was ruled by Nadir Shah's grandson, Shah
Rukh. 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. In short order,
the powerful army brought under its control the Turkmen, Uzbek,
Tajik, and Hazara tribes of northern Afghanistan. Ahmad invaded
India a third, then a fourth, time, taking control of the Punjab,
Kashmir, and the city of Lahore. Early in 1757, he sacked Delhi, but
permitted the Mughal Dynasty to remain in nominal control as long as
the ruler acknowledged Ahmad's suzerainty over the Punjab, Sindh,
and Kashmir. Leaving his second son Timur Shah in charge, Ahmad left
India to return to Afghanistan.
collapse of Mughal control in India, however, also facilitated the
rise of rulers other than Ahmad Shah. In the Punjab, the Sikhs were
becoming a potent force. From their capital at Pune, the Marathas,
Hindus who controlled much of western and central India, were
beginning to look northward to the decaying Mughal empire, which
Ahmad Shah now claimed by conquest. Upon his return to Kandahar in
1757, Ahmad faced Maratha attacks which succeeded in ousting Timur
and his court in India.
Ahmad Shah declared an Islamic holy war against the Marathas, and
warriors from various Pashtun tribes, as well as other tribes such
as the Baloch, answered his call. Early skirmishes ended in victory
for the Afghans, and by 1759 Ahmad and his army had reached Lahore.
By 1760 the Maratha groups had coalesced into a great army. Once
again Panipat was the scene of a confrontation between two warring
contenders for control of northern India. The Battle of Panipat in
1761 between Muslim and Hindu armies who numbered as many as 100,000
troops each was fought 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, perhaps second after the Ottoman
Empire. Afterward, even prior to his death, the empire began to
unravel. 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,
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 amir 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. Ahmad Shah 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.
the time of Ahmad Shah's ascendancy, the Pashtuns included many
groups whose origins were obscure; most were believed to have
descended from ancient Aryan tribes, but some, such as the Ghilzai,
may have once been Turks. They had in common, however, their Pashtu
language. To the east, the Waziris and their close relatives, the
Mahsuds, had lived in the hills of the central Suleiman Range since
the fourteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century and the
final Turkish-Mongol invasions, tribes such as the Shinwaris,
Yusufzais, and Momands 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
Abdali Durrani is
the First King of Afghanistan and founder of the Sadozay 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 Baba Baba 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 Amu
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 intended
in permanently ruling India; he subsequently withdrew into
Ahmad Shah Baba 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 Baba Baba's vast realm soon broke apart. Afghans were
better fighters than administrators.