(Last Updated on : 14/05/2012)
The Durrani Empire , carved out in 1747 , was a large state, consisting of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan , Khorasan province of Iran and a smaller section of Western India. It existed for almost a century, until the turbulent tussles with the Persians and the Sikhs, and the final deathblow from the British colonizers, invited its decomposition into dust.
Rise Of The Durrani Empire
(1722-1772) hailed from the Saddozai section of the Popalzai clan of the Abdali tribe of Afghans. Abdalis were the most popular among the Pashtun people or the ethnic population of Afghanistan. He emerged as the first of the Saddozai section and founder of the Durrani Empire.
During the 18th Century, Abdalis dominate the region of Herat. Their head was Zaman Khan, the father of Ahmad Khan .The brave Abdalis offered a formidable opposition to the Persian invaders, attempting to snatch away Herat. However in 1728, they were compelled to bow down before the invincible Nadir Shah of Persia. Nadir Shah could assess the worth of their military genius and incorporated them into his army. Ahmad Khan Abdali , proved his mettle. From the insignificance of a personal attendant, he lifted himself to the commanding position of Nadir`s Abdali contingent. The able general ventured out with Nadir, on his expedition to India in 1739. Naturally a man with such lofty ambitions could not remain gratified in serving sovereignty. Ahmad`s chance of marching to his desired destination came, when in June 1747, Nadir Shah got murdered by his nephew Adil Shah, who later formed the Qajar Dynasty.
Ahmad Khan pounced upon the situation. At the Loya Jirga (large meeting of the Pashtun groups of Afghanistan) near Kandahar , he was nominated the future king, among other claimants to the throne . He renamed himself as Ahmad Shah and conferred on himself the title "Durr-i-Durrani", meaning the "Pearl of Pearls". Subsequent to his coronation ceremony, the Abdali Pashtuns came to be known as Durranis. Ahmad Shah consolidated his newly achieved authority with a series of conquests. He first beseiged Ghazni from the Ghilzais, and later Kabul and Peshawar.
Ahmad Shah as an heir to Nadir Shah`s eastern realm , demanded the provinces that Nadir had grabbed from the Mughal Emperor, Muhammad Shah(1719-1748). In 1749, Sindh, Punjab and west of the Indus river was surrenderd to Ahmad Shah Durrani by the traumatised Mughals.
Next he turned his attention to Herat, governed by Nadir Shah`s grandson, Shah Rukh of the Afsharid Dynasty of Persia. A year long conflict was ensued, at the end of which Herat passed into the hands of Ahmad Shah. A similar pattern prevailed in the capture of Mashhad.
Ahmad`s overbrimming ambition propelled him to conduct military attacks in the areas north of the Hindu Kush Mountains. Within a limited span of time , the Turkmen, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara tribes of North Afghanistan , were overpowered by the strong army of the Durranis.
The topsy-turvy condition of the decadent Mughal Empire allured him and he cast ravages on it. His repeated raids won him greater control over Punjab and Kashmir. Afterwards in early 1757, he vanquished Delhi. However the Mughal Royalty was allowed to stay as a nominal head, in lieu of his recognition of the Durrani supremacy over Punjab, Sindh and Kashmir. Entrusting his son, Timur Shah, with the grave responsibilities of the new acquisitions , he left for Afghanistan.
Third Battle Of Panipat
The Mughal suzerainty was on the verge of collapse since the closing years of Aurangzeb`s reign.Availing of the favourable circumstances , the opponent Maratha Confederacy , commanding a larger extent of Western and Central India, from their headquarters at Pune, schemed to extend their sway. They established their foothold in the Mughal base at Delhi , the moment Ahmad Shah ,went back to Afghanistan. Even in Punjab, the Marathas planted their flag of imperialism. Finally in 1757, Ahmad Shah returned to India to experience a serious tryst with the Marathas. The Durranis, including Timur Shah were banished from the country.
The infuriated Ahmad Shah embarked on a Jihad or Islamic holy war against the hostile Marathas .His clarion call was responded ardently by the Baloch, Tajiks , and the Muslims in India. What followed were skirmishes, resulting in triumph for the Afghans . The Durranis forged ahead to Lahore, preparing for a thundering attack on the Marathas. The much-awaited opportunity came on January 14, 1761, when the two potent anti-parties assembled on the historic plains of Panipat. The Maratha troops were huge in number. Yet they were devastated by the aggressive Afghans in the Third Battle of Panipat. However the victory could not gurrantee the Durranis , troubleless regime over their properties due to disputes.
The growing rift between the Afghans and the rising Sikh power called for the Sixth Afghan Expedition to India in 1762.In 1761, the Sikh paramountcy in Punjab had announced their chief , Jassa Singh Ahluvalia, king of Lahore.Enraged by the depressing news of Afghan defeat in the hands of the Sikhs ,he stormed into Punjab . Ahmad Shah indulged in what should be called a glory massacare . Almost 25,000 Sikhs were slaughtered in a single day`s battle on 5th February, 1762. This horrifying incident is recorded in Sikh History as Vadda Ghallughara , the Great Killing. Still, very soon within four months, the courageous Sikhs retained energy to subdue the Afghan Governor of Sirhind . Ahmad Shah continued the war by exploding the Sikhs, with gunpowder during their Diwali celebrations in the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar in April, 1762. Sikhs still did not surrender. December 1762 , Ahmad Shah left Lahore. 1764, Ahmad Shah crazy for power, assaulted the Sikhs once again.1760, Ahmad Shah , determined to suppress the Sikhs underwent the Eighth Expedition. Sikhs employing the old trick of hide and seek, ousted the Afghans. 1769, Ahmad Shah Durrani resorted to anti-Sikh war for the ninth and last time. It was did not benefit him that much. 1772 , Ahmad Shah died of a malignant wound inflicted by the war. The indomitable Sikhs regained their lost territories.
Making Of The Nation
When Ahmad Shah was crowned the monarch, there existed a cloud of doubt among the puzzled Pashtuns , regarding their genealogical history. Some traced their descent to the ancient Aryan band , whereas the Ghilzai, merged with the Turks . Again the Durrani got attached to the Persian culture , because of the tremendous influence of the Tajiks on them. Nevertheless they shared a same vernacular language called the Pashtu language.And above all, was a feeling of oneness for being branches of the same ancestral tree ,which pervaded every group.
From the 14th century,the Waziris and their kins, as well as the Mashuds had resided in the hills of the central Sulaiman Mountains.During the Turkish-Mongol invasions in the final years of the 16th century, tribes such as the Shinwaris, Yusufzais and Mohmands have migrated from the upper Kabul River Valley into the valleys and plains , west, north, and northeast of Peshawar. The Afridis were old inhabitants of the hills and mountainous areas south of the Khyber Pass. The Durrani Empire encompassed west and north of Kandahar and stretched their expanse towards the far-flung eastern domains of Quetta and Baluchistan, thereby gifting a national character to the wayward Afghan population.
Later Durrani Rulers
Unfortunately, the successors of Ahmad Shah Durrani did not inherit the caliber of their outstanding predecessor. Their acute inability to maintain order and discipline during a period of disruptive civil war and chaos in the Empire, precipitated into the downfall of the Durrani Empire.
Timur Shah (1772-1793) was the son of Ahmad Shah .He was assigned with the administrative duties of his father`s North Indian possessions.But the Marathas squashed his domination there and expelled him . After his father`s demise, the unwilling Durrani generals and nobles, were unhappy with his placement on the throne. He was tormented with curse of civil strife and rebellion , most of the times. Unrest in the capital of Kandahar, forced him to relocate in Kabul . 24 sons were born to him, many of whom escalated to the kingship of several Durrani territories. Timur died in 1793, leaving the legacy of frustrating failures. His fifth son, Zaman Shah became the next ruler.
Zaman Shah (1793-1801).
Timur`s death ignited the internal conflict among three of his sons, ruling Kandahar, Herat and Kabul , respectively. Zaman Shah , in control of the capital, Kabul , manipulated things to his profit.He ascended to the throne .And the rivalry with his brothers , destroyed the stability of the state. Afghanistan became vulnerable to foreign attacks.
Sikhs evolved as a source of potential danger. The myopic Zaman committed the blunder of recruiting an efficient ,politically wise and brave Sikh chief, Ranjit Singh , as the Governor of Punjab.This insurmountable warrior, in future , thwarted the designs of the Pashtun rulers in Afghanistan.
Zaman`s irreparable mistake of disposing off the Barakzai leaders, who had supported him during his ascension , from power. His inclination towards the Sadozai , his own blood-line, made him kill Painda Khan, the main Barakzai pillar, and the chieftains of the Nurzai and Alizai Durrani clans and that of the Qizilbash clan. The betrayed Barakzai people upheld Zaman`s elder brother, Mahmud Shah as an alternative for Zaman. They combinedly resisted the oppressor king, and overtook Kandahar . Zaman Shah , found himself dethroned on July 25,1801.
Mahmud Shah substituted the previous ruler and his brother, Zaman Shah. Pandemonium became the order of the day during his regime. His was an interrupted career , persisting from 1809-1803 and again from 1809-1818. During the humiliating breaks from the office of kingship that he suffered, Shoja Shah, another half-brother took the reigns.
Shuja Shah (1803-1809), one of Timur Shah`s sons, enjoyed the taste of power only for six years. He entered into an aggreement with the British , on June 7, 1809, promising that he would not allow foreign elements into his realm. This contract instigated the allied Franco-Persian strength, to wage wars against the British and Afghans. The signing of the treaty arosed such antipathy against him , that Mahmud Shah was permitted to render him powerless . Much later, in 1839,he was reinstalled on the throne , by the British. Two of his sons , handled power for a short term in 1842.
Sultan Ali Shah , one of Timur`s son, obtained authority for a negligible time,1818-1819.
Sultan Ali Shah Durrani`s brother, Ayub Shah , appeared as the last Durrani Emperor in 1819. He maintained power till his death, supposedly a murder , in 1823.
Decline Of The Durrani Empire
The pinnacle of success , reached by Ahmad Shah Durrani ,after the decisive victory in the Third Battle of Panipat, in 1761 , soon started to fade away, owing to the aggravating Afghan-Sikh adversity. In his obsession to annihilate the Sikh power, he not only defamed himself with loathsome sins, but also faced losses ,himself. Indeed the fatal injury , that welcomed his death was , imposed by these wars.
Sikhs became a permanent rival to the Afghan leaders of the posterity. The successors of Ahmad Khan, were plauged by this awful animosity, along with the inner problems eating away Durrani power. Disastrous civil feuds , quaked the foundation of the Empire.
Ultimately with the advent of the British, the boundaries of Afghan occupations got curtailed.What was left was the debris of an once-glorious royal achievement.