Eighteenth Century Ruler of Modern Day Afghanistan & Pakistan
By Pervaiz Munir Alvi
[ We are delighted to publish this essay written exclusively for PTH – Ed.]
Ahmad Shah Durrani was born in 1722 as Ahmad Khan Abdali at the city of Multan. By the age of twenty five he had become ruler of the vast territory stretched from Mashhad in the west to the Punjab in the east; the land mass that today roughly forms the modern twin countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He rose to power at a time when the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) based in Delhi and the Safavid Empire (1501-1722) based in Isfahan were disintegrating. Ahmad Shah at the expense of these two neighboring but dwindling empires was skillfully able to carve out an empire of his own. His rule although relatively short (1747-1772), was significant in the sense that it ultimately changed the course of the history of the South-Central Asia.
1707 – 1747
During the half century rule (1658-1707) of Alamgir I (Aurangzeb) all territories now forming Pakistan, Kashmir and most of Afghanistan were part of the great Mughal Empire. Upon death of Alamgir I his son Bahadar Shah I succeeded him but five years later he too died fighting Sikh insurgents in Punjab. Soon after that intrigues took over the Palace. Syeds of Bihar had become the most powerful force in the Mughal Court. Two successive emperors, Jahandar Shah and Farokh Siar were murdered and the empire started to crumble from all directions. In the next quarter century multiple insurgencies of Sikh, Jat, Rajput, Marhatta and Rohila Afghans challenged the Mughal rule.
In year 1719, Sultan Roshan Akhtar, a grandson of Bahadar Shah I and great-grandson of Alamgir I, under the title of Mohammad Shah (1719-1748) was installed as emperor. In order to neutralize the Syeds, Mohammad Shah established two parties of courtiers; a Turkic party under Chin Kulin Khan and a Persian party under Saadat Ali. Over the course of time these two noblemen and their respective descendants will play a significant role in the affairs of the Mughal Empire and would routinely interact with the Persian and Afghan monarchs in the west. In 1738, overwhelmed by the internal and the external troubles, these two courtiers of the Mughal emperor asked Nadir Shah Afshar of Persia to intervene. Nadir Shah attacked Delhi in 1738 and forced Emperor Mohammad Shah, to handover all territories west of the River Indus to the Persians.
Ahmad Khan Abdali at that time was only a young soldier in the Persian army of Nadir Shah who had given precedence to Abdali tribesmen over their rival the Ghilzais. However within a very short time Ahmad Khan Abdali rose from the level of Yasawal (personal servant) to the king to the rank of commander of Abdali regiment. When Nadir Shah died in 1747 at the hands of the Qizalbash (red-turbans) soldiers wary of the growing Abdali influence, Ahmad Khan provided security to the family of the late king. In October 1747 at a location near mausoleum of Muslim saint Sheikh Surkh, adjacent to Fort Nadirabad-Kandahar, Ahmad Khan called a meeting (Jirga) of tribal elders. At the meeting, under his new name Ahmad Shah Abdali, he announced himself as a leader of the Pashtun tribes. Haji Jamal Khan Mohammadzai, the other contender to the leadership withdrew his claim. Pir Sabir Shah, the spiritual guide of Pashtun tribes validated the selection by showering his praise for the young Ahmad Shah Abdali and declared him Durr-e-Durran (pearl of the pearls); hence the beginning of the name Durrani.
1747 – 1754
Following his mentor Nadir Shah, Ahmad Shah took control of Kandahar, Ghazna, Kabul and Peshawar. By December 1747 the provinces of Frontier, Kashmir, Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan – the areas roughly constituting Pakistan – were all under his control. On March 3rd 1748 Durrani and Mughal forces confronted each other near the city of Sirhind in east Punjab. Mughal forces were led by the Crown Prince and various members of the families of Chin Kulin Khan and Saadat Ali. On March 11th 1748 Durrani forces were defeated but at the end of the battle day, the leader of the Mughal forces Grand Vazir Qamar-ud-din, a son of Chin Kulin Khan died by a round shot while praying. Five days later on April 16th 1748 hearing the death of his Grand Vazir, the Mughal emperor Mohammad Shah also died seized by a strong convulsion. Soon after that Chin Kulin Khan, who had become Nizam of Deccan also died. The Crown Prince, a son of Mohammad Shah from his Hindu wife Udam Bai, under the title of Ahmad Shah (not to be confused with Ahmad Shah Abdali) became the new emperor (1748-1754). He appointed Safdar Jang, a nephew of Saadat Ali as Grand Vazir as well as Nawab of Audh and Nasir Jang, a son of Chin Kulin Khan as new Nizam of Deccan.
Abdali meanwhile, after securing eastern territories turned his attention westward and in 1750-51 captured the Persian cities of Herat, Nishapur and Mashhad. However in 1751 he had to return to Lahore to quell Sikh insurgencies. In 1752 he marched on Kashmir to consolidate his control. Soon after that the Mughal emperor made his peace with Abdali and formally ceded to him the provinces of Lahore and Multan. Abdali in return allowed Moin-ud-din (commonly known as Mir Mannu), a son of Qamar-ud-din and grandson of Chin Kulin Khan to be the governor of Punjab as an appointee of the Mughal emperor. This peace deal marks the end of the two and a quarter century long (1524-1748) rule of the Timurids over the land now constituting Pakistan. For the next two centuries (1748-1947) the country will be successively ruled by the Afghans, Sikhs, English and various petty Nawabs, Khans and Maharajas.
After the loss of the north-western part of the empire, the Mughal court once again slipped into internal intrigues and chaos. An open war ensued between the Turkic party and the Persian party in which Turks prevailed and another son of late Qamar-ud-din became the Grand Vazir. In their struggles for supremacy each party on its part sought support of Marhatta, Jat and Rohila Afghan outsiders. Finally Shahab-ud-din, another grandson of Chin Kulin Khan and a cousin of Mir Mannu prevailed over all others. He declared himself as Grand Vazir and on June 5th 1754 deposed and blinded Emperor Ahmad Shah and put him in prison. On July 1754 another great-grandson of Alamgir I and a son of the late Emperor Jahandar Shah at the age of 54 was enthroned as Alamgir II. In Audh, Safdar Jang the nephew of late Saadat Ali too died on October 17th 1754, leaving Shahab-ud-din uncontested. By this time the once mighty Mughal Empire had been reduced just to the areas now called Utter Pradesh in India.
1754 – 1757
Mir Mannu the governor of Punjab had died in November 1753 in a horse fall. Abdali made his minor son Timur Shah governor of Punjab but left the administration in the hands of the widow of Mir Mannu and her Hindu aid known as Adina Baig. Not pleased with this change, Mughal Grand Vazir (Shahab-ud-din) decided to march on Lahore in the company of Crown Prince Mirza Ali Gouhar, took widow and daughter of Mir Mannu (whom he later married) and made Adina Baig commissioner of Lahore. Abdali, obviously furious by these actions, returned to Lahore and then marched on Delhi for the second time. Twenty miles outside Delhi the two armies faced each other; only this time a major segment of the army of Emperor Alamgir II under the command of one Najib Khan, a Rohila Afghan soldier of fortune, moved over to the Abdali side as expected guests.
On September 11, 1757 Abdali entered Delhi and took over the affairs of the government. However before returning to his capital Kandahar, Abdali married a daughter of the late emperor Mohammad Shah and at the same time married his son Timur Shah to a daughter of Crown Prince Mirza Ali Gouhar; thus establishing his own family relations with the Mughal royal family. At the intervention of the widow of Mir Mannu victorious Abdali pardoned the Grand Vazir and the two agreed to join hands against other common enemies. He also made Najib Khan in charge of the Palace while a part of Abdali forces was left behind to safeguard Durrani interests. Timur Shah returned to Lahore as Durrani governor of Punjab. During this period at the orders of Ahmad Shah Abdali a set of two large size cannons were cast at Lahore. Surviving cannon of the pair, by the name of Zamzama now sits in front of the Lahore Museum for the public display.
1757 – 1761
Once Abdali back in Kandahar, the Grand Vazir (Shahab-ud-din) with the help of hired Marhatta mercenaries expelled Najib Khan from the Palace, and conspired against Crown Prince Mirza Ali Gouhar and his son-in-law Timur Shah. Mirza Gouhar was imprisoned from where he escaped. Timur Shah was chased out of Lahore by Adina Baig with the help of Marhattas. At the same time the Emperor Alamgir II was murdered by the men of the Grand Vazir in November 1759 by deceit and another great-grandson of Alamgir I and grandson of Prince Kam Buksh under the title of Shah Jahan II was declared emperor. However in Bihar the fugitive Crown Prince Mirza Ali Gouhar also took the name of Shah Alam and declared himself as the rightful emperor. Abdali had no choice but to return to Delhi for the third time. He cleared Punjab of the Marhattas and then marched on to Delhi. The Grand Vazir fled in time and abandoned the city in advance of Ahmad Shah. When Abdali left the deserted city for his camp at Anup Shahr, to fill in the vacuum, Marhattas with the help of Rajputs and Jats took over Delhi in the December of 1759. The stage was set for another showdown.
The summer of 1760 was used by the two sides in building alliances, war preparation and troop movement. On one side was the Hindu Marhatta Confederacy and on the other side was the Muslim Mughal-Afghan Alliance. On October 17th 1760 combined Muslim army consisting of Rohila Afghans under Najib Khan, Mughals under Nawab Shuja-ud-daula of Audh and Durrani forces, all under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Abdali made its move. First encounter between the advance troops from the both sides took place on October 26th. For the next two months small and large party duels and skirmishes continued, each adding to the Marhatta losses of men, ammunition and provisions. Finally, hungry cold and exhausted, on the night of January 6th 1761 the Marhattas took a desperate decision. One hour before dawn they would take their last meal, paint their faces saffron and meet the enemy head-on ready to die.
Ahmad Shah Abdali was in bed when at 3:00 A.M. his spies broke the news. The Marhattas had opened fire. Throughout the morning hours the Muslim army took fire but stood its ground. By 1:00 P.M. Abdali gave orders to charge forward. By 3 o’clock the Marhatta forces were cut down with their chiefs either slain or on the run. Victorious Muslim allies moved back into Delhi. Fugitive emperor Shah Alam was recognized as the legitimate heir to the Mughal throne. In the absence of Shah Alam, his eldest son Mirza Jawan Bakht under the protection of Najib Khan was made the nominal charge of the affairs. Shuja-ud-daula returned to Audh as new Grand Vazir. Abdali returned to Lahore and then to Kabul and Kandahar. Defeated Marhatta for the next eight years did not make any more attempts on Delhi.
Between 1761 and 1767 Ahmad Shah had to fight off many Sikh insurgencies in Punjab. With Emperor Shah Alam unable to return to Delhi, the capital was managed by Najib as regent of Crown Prince Jawan Bukht. However Najib was continuously being threatened by the Jats. Abdali had to return to Delhi one more time to assist Najib Khan and Prince Jawan Bukht. In April 1767 Durrani forces arrived outside Delhi for the fourth time. However soon after his return, Marhatta started to gain strength. Towards the end of 1768 they made some advancement and by 1769 once again started to threaten Delhi. In 1770 Najib Khan entered into some territorial accommodation with Marhattas soon after which he died at the age of sixty two and his place was taken over by his son Zabita Khan. By 1770-71 Marhattas were able to make a comeback. Only this time Abdali did not return to help Mughals. Zabita Khan fled the capital. Emperor Shah Alam with the help of Marhattas returned to his capital after an absence of eleven years.
Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of the Durrani Empire, died at the city of Murghah in 1772 at a relatively young age of fifty. Reportedly in 1764 he had developed a face cancer which ultimately took his life. Upon his death his son Timur Shah became the next Emperor. But soon after that the Durrani Empire started to disintegrate. Punjab, the most precious holding was wrestled away by the Sikhs. Timur Shah died in 1793. For the next thirty years five different but ineffective sons of Timur Shah ruled the much reduced kingdom from Kabul till in 1823, Ayub Shah, the last Durrani king was deposed and possibly killed. Today millions in Afghanistan and Pakistan identify themselves of the Durrani heritage.
Ahmad Shah Abdali, the founder of Durrani Empire is buried in his native city Kandahar where his imposing mausoleum as a testimony to his greatness still stands with an epitaph:
The king of high rank, Ahmad Shah Durrani
Main Source: The Fall of the Mughal Empire By: H.G. Keene, Oxford, 1887.
75 responses to “Ahmad Shah Durrani: A King of High Rank”
That was interesting. When did Adina Beg convert to Islam? I had always thought he was an Afghan.
Cool history! Hopefully there will be another king of such high rank from A’stan soon. Hopefully though his empire wudnot include any part of the modern Republic of India.
why not avoid the conflicting hopes and settle for a medium rank king from a’stan instead
Need we start at such elevated heights? Can’t we start with a teeny-weeny king (right clan, same as Ahmad Shah, natch) right from Pakistan itself? We can work our way up later.
If the teeny-weeny king is not a militarist, has some technical and legal training, some exposure to life abroad, and to the bliss of not having a theological thought police peering down your (metaphorical) cleavage, if he has writing skills and the experience of interpretation of difficult concepts to young and feel-young, it would be really, really nice.
Oh, OK, back to work it is. No bullshitting.
A reasonably good narrative. However, the 3rd battle of Panipat took place on January 14th, not January 6th.
Two factors decimated the Marathas. One was the overenthusiastic charge of Sadashiv Rao Bhau. The other was the camel cavalry of Abdali with 2000 shutarnal (camel mounted swivel guns)
Exemplary fighting on the side of the Marathas was shown however, by Ibrahim Gardi and his men who massacred the Rohillas.
…..And after the battle, for putting up a brave fight, Ibrahim was tortured and killed.
Hayyer (November 25, 2009 at 6:59 pm):
He did not. Adina Baig was his official name. The man had a very checkered and interesting biography.
Milind Kher (November 25, 2009 at 10:16 pm):
Different sources give different dates. We have to remember that during the Muslim period officially (lunar) Hijri calendar was in use. The actual dates were later on converted according to the (solar) Christian calendar. Therefore there is a possibility of error.
PMA… a proponent of the Af-Pak theory ….
Anyone extolling Abdali and looking up to him as an example has to read Fall of Mughal Empire by JN Sarkar. The brutalities that his army wreak on the Indian subcontinent were legendary. He was without doubt a born military genius. Beyond that he was no different from the barbarians that came from outside.
If Afghans want to look up to an example, they could do better with Dost Muhammad or with Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan.
Amit (November 26, 2009 at 2:51 am):
There are two very different but popular narratives on Abdali: One from Afghanistan where he is regarded as ‘Father of Afghan Nation’ and the second one from India as expressed by you. This essay intentionally stays clearly out of these two narratives and focuses on the events and the personalities that brought about such events. But regardless ones own opinion of him, he is and remains a significant figure in the history of modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There are two very different but popular narratives on Abdali: One from Afghanistan where he is regarded as ‘Father of Afghan Nation’ and the second one from India as expressed by you.
This is mirrored I guess in Pak as well. There is one lot which admires him greatly – they have named missiles as well after him. There is another school particularly from Punjab which loathes him as a robber. I believe there was a 18th century poet (Bulle Shah???) who used to lampoon him regularly.
There was a poem I am forgetting the exact Punjoo words-
What you wear and eat belongs to you
The rest belongs to Ahmedshah
(the latter line translating as “baki Ahmedshahey da)
Ahmad Shah Abdali was a military genius.
Other than that, I don’t think he was too savory a person.
“khade peeta lahe da
baki ahmed shahe da”
by Waaris Shah
whats the point of this article? Ahmad Shah was no doubt a historical figure of great importance..his military successes and failures significantly altered the course of history by checking the marhatas and failing to break the Sikhs. He forged the first afghan/pakhtun nation and created the nucleus of modern day afghanistan
Majumdar (November 26, 2009 at 9:31 am):
Your reference is to the combined Punjab of the eighteenth century where Punjabis of all backgrounds lived side by side. Demography of Punjab completely changed in 1947. In post-independence period Punjabis and Pashtuns of Pakistan view Abdali differently than say Indians do. I will also like to point out to you that, just like Karachi, Pakistani Punjab is now inhabited by all sorts of ethnic groups. There are large numbers of non-Pashtun Afghans, Pashtuns, Kashmiris and descendants of Indian Muslims that make up the overall population of Punjab. Even many of those you would call Punjabi in Pakistan identify themselves of Pashtun and Afghan lineage. Durrani is a common family name in Pakistan.
Milind Kher (November 26, 2009 at 10:21 am):
The question is not whether Abdali was “savory a person” or not. That subject could be taken up in an other essay. The point is that he is a person of significance in the history of modern day Pakistan. Had there not been Ahmad Shah Abdali the history of our country Pakistan would have been very different than what it is today. Thanks for your interest in the article.
It appears that there is some kind of a communal slant to the way Abdali is viewed.
Muslims view him as a hero and Hindus as a villain. Also, unlike the other battles of Panipat, this was (barring Ibrahim Gardi and his contingent in the Maratha army) completely polarized on communal lines.
The 1st battle where Babur fought Ibrahim Lodhi was for the throne, as was the 2nd where Hemu fought Akbar.
I remember a book called Heroes of Islam which featured Mahmud of Ghazni. This book is sold by the Markazi Maktaba Islami in India. Rather tolerant on the part of GOI, I would say 🙂
takhalus (November 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm):
“whats the point of this article?”
I would say that you yourself have answered your own question. Abdali is an important figure in the history of modern day Pakistan; therefore this article. Thanks for your interest in this essay.
He is surely significant.
And as a general, he can be bracketed with Changez Khan, Halaku and Amir Timur.
Yes, he crushed the Maratha supremacy in the North. Of course, the Marathas were isolated. On account of their marauding ways, neither the Rajputs nor the Jats supported them.
“Abdali is an important figure in the history of modern day Pakistan; therefore this article.”
Milind Kher (November 26, 2009 at 5:46 pm):
“Muslims view him as a hero and Hindus as a villain.”
That is a blanket statement. What is more true that Afghans consider him as ‘Father of Afghan Nation’ and Indians as a ‘villain’. But this article is not from either of these two perspectives. This article is from a Pakistani perspective. From Pakistani perspective Ahmad Shah Abdali must be seen as one from its long history of rulers and not merely as a military general. Intention of this article is not to stimulate passions but to highlight an important historic period of the history of modern day Pakistan.
gv (November 26, 2009 at 6:17 pm):
I have feeling that you already know the answer. But a short answer to your enquiry is that most significantly he halted northward advance of the Marhattas. The vacuum created by the inability of his successors paved the way for the Sikh rule in Punjab, Frontier and Kashmir. For a long answer I will return some other time with another essay. Please do read this article if you already have not done so.
I would still regard Ahmad Shah Abdali as more of a general than a ruler.
A typical ruler should also have been a man of letters, or a patron of arts, or should have some other similar achievement to his credit.
Is there any such achievement that you would like to highlight?
MK he was more of a successor to Nadir Shah..I don’t agree with it being a religious battle..thats the view of orthodox Muslims, but it’s not correct..as mentioned Ibrahim gardi was an Afghan and the Gardis fought ferociously for the Marhatas. Similarly the Jats stayed neutral and the Rajputs nominally favoured the Ahmad Shah.
also Bengal and the Nizam of Hyderabad were largely indifferent to Ahmad Shah.
Despite the brutal massacres of Hindus and Sikhs at several times he also settled thousands of Hindus and sikhs amongst the Afghans..and they lived peacefully amongst the Afghans for over two centuries. http://www.afghanhindu.info
I have two favourite stories about Ahmad Shah and one about Panipat..
the first is When Mir Mannu presented himself before Ahmad Shah, the latter sarcastically asked him, “How is it that you did not present yourself before the threshold of your lord before this to do him homage?” “Because”, replied Mir Mannu, “I had another lord to serve.” “And why,” rejoined the Shah satirically, ” did not your lord and master succour you at this moment of your distress?” “Because,” answered Mannu boldly, “he was sure that his servant would take care of himself”. “And supposing,” continued the Shah, “I had fallen in your hands, what treatment would you have shown to me?” “I should have severed your majesty’s head from your body and sent it to my king”, was the reply. “And now that you are at my mercy, what do you expect of me”? “If you are a merchant,” said Mannu,” sell me: if executioner and tyrant, cut off my head: but if you are a king show me kingly generosity and pardon my life.”
the second is by Kipling who describes the battle of panipat in one line..The wreath of banquet overnight lay withered on the neck,
Our hands and scarfs were saffron-dyed for signal of despair,
When we went forth to Paniput to battle with the Mlech, —
Ere we came back from Paniput and left a kingdom there.
Milind Kher (November 26, 2009 at 8:13 pm):
You may what ever role you wish to assign to Ahmad Shah Abdali. As I said before, to Afghans he is their ‘Father of Nation’ and to Indians he is a ‘villain’. In Delhi he could be seen as a general because there he appears in that role. But he ruled over his vast empire stretched from Mashhad to Lahore. There he must be seen as a ruler. Your questions regarding what virtues could be assigned to his rule. That is outside the scope of this essay. Time permitting I will return with high as well as low points of his rule. That is a subject by itself and needs a full treatment.
With all due respect i think Abdali/Durrani was a military adventurer like many others before him who sole aim was to carve out a kingdom/empire for himself and his progeny.
His borders like all other military conquerers extended to the limit of his military prowess and strenght.
I have no wish to deny him any accolades for his military or empire building skills or his relevance to the history of the region.
I simply fail to see how he is more relevant or especially pertinent to ‘modern day pakistan’.
There was nothing like a group of ‘gardis’ fighting on the side of Marathas. Ibrahim Gardi was one of the foremost generals in the Maratha army and his Maratha troops actually gave the best account of themselves in the battle. The much vaunted Scindias vacated the battlefield very early on. My point was merely about Abdali being a born military commander. Beyond that, he was merely one of the adventurers, as someone else has pointed out. I have no desire to get into the communal coloring of that fateful day. Abdali would have won anyways, regardless of how prepared Marathas were. His army was better trained, better equipped, and was composed of veterans who had prior experience is such pitched battles. Above all, Abdali was the best general of his times. Of course, it didn’t help that Marathas had alienated everyone, from Rajputs to Jats. In any case, alliances were made purely on self-interest. That it could be given a convenient religious coloring was merely an “add-on”. Yet, the barbarity that was indulged by Abdali in the aftermath was apparently to get some place in heaven. Infidels, after all, were dime a dozen those days.
On another note, I was saddened by some missiles being named as Abdali. Abdali didn’t spare his Muslim adversaries either. I assume the missile is going to do a better job.
Ahmad Shah was a man of letters he was a poet in persian and pashto
Where on earth did you get that very strange interpretation? Ibrahim Gardi was a Gardi, a Muslim convert from Bhils and other tribes, and with 8,000 or so other Gardis, excellent musketeers and cannoneers, formed the extreme left wing of the Maratha line of battle at Panipat 3. There was indeed specifically a group of Gardis, a very effective group, and they completely dominated their side of the battle until the closing stages, when the Maratha light cavalry assigned to keep the heavy-armed and heavy-mounted Afghan cavalry from attacking them, lost their heads and attacked the Rohillas opposite them. The defeat of the light cavalry by the Rohillas opened the Gardis to the Rohilla attacks, which gradually wore them down and finally broke them.
@vajra Gardi was an Afghan by race?
gv: Your question is that what is the relevance of Ahmad Shah Abdali to Pakistan. The answer is very simple. From 1747 to 1772 he ruled over the areas now called Pakistan. He is one of the long list of our rulers. Whether one approves of him or not he is part of our history. His historical significance to our area is undeniable. If Babar is significant for founding the Mughal Empire, then Abdali is significant for ending the Mughal rule over the areas now called Pakistan. He brought an end of one era and started an other. In our history 1747 is just as important as 1947. To characterize him just another ‘military adventurer’ will be a mistake. He posses all the political and military geniuses of an empire builder and a ruler. He deserves a rightful place in our history.
Apologies. Was getting over being gob-smacked by PMA’s last post and overlooked your question.
No, Gardi was not Afghan by race. As far as I could find out, there are populations of Muslim converts in the Deccan who are converted tribesmen – Bhils and their associated tribes. They retain all the hallmarks of the Bhil: intense loyalty, exceptional bravery, a dogged courage, almost an English phlegm, on the field of battle….
In addition, the Gardis (there are other similar groupings, I have heard the name the Pardis) had two characteristics.
Like the Sikhs in modern times, who have an uncanny feel for mechanical equipment and above all for engines, the Gardi picked up an affinity for firearms. They were famed musketeers, in which role they caused havoc among Abdali’s troops at Panipat, and broke his right wing twice, and also gunners of a high class: Ibrahim himself was in charge of the guns during the battle.
The second characteristic was that they took a liking to the original great king, Shivaji Chhatrapati, and stayed loyal to his line through its decay and decline, and through the Merovingian period of the Marathas, their devolution of power to the minister, the Peshwa. They were the steadiest troops on display at Panipat, and outfought all who came against them, until the disastrous final stages.
I think I was incorrect in my previous post as regards Gardi battalion. Gardi and Ghardi are used interchangeably in historical sources. Ibrahim Gardi was widely reputed to be a Pathan. I guess it’s just a part of folklore. Legend says that Abdali tried to bribe him over by appealing to his religious affiliation, but he tore the letter and executed the spy by blowing him from a cannon. Abdali apparently remarked that he expected that reaction from Gardi knowing that he was a Pathan after all. I am not sure how much of this is true. My prime source has been JN Sarkar and he does not elaborate over the Gardi battalion and its composition beyond saying that they were best trained musketeers in the Maratha army. He, however, gives an excellent account of the battle. I, therefore, assumed that Gardi was a common Pathan surname and his troops were Marathas. I should have researched more before writing it. Thanks for your clarification.
@vajra: Ibrahim Khan was not as loyal as some say..( i was told once the term gardi was a corruption of Grandee because he was trained by French General Bussy) he had been bought off by from the Niazm of Hyderabad after all…the story of his death is quite brutal..it is said Ahmad Shah approached him before the battle to join the Afghans but he refused..anyway after his capture the Afghans were incensed by his role in the battlefield ..had poison put in many of his wounds
others say the wounded man was put in a hole filled with salt.
It was actually the Rohillas of UP who were the chief culprit. It mattered to them more that Abdali was their Pathan brethren than that they were in India. It is one of the darkest period in our history. It explains a lot more our horror with a loose federal structure.
a loose federal structure
the contrast between one under arbitrary rule and rulers of the 18th century and the other under modern/british rule of law counts for nothing?
Abdali trying to bribe Gardi was not surprising.
Aurangzeb also made some pathetic attempts to bribe the proud and loyal Abdur Razzaq Lari of Golconda. He was snubbed very badly by Lari and ultimately Lari died a painful death.
Of course, it is another matter that by destroying Bijapur and Golconda, Aurangzeb effectively removed powerful checks on the Marathas, who subsequently ravaged the Mughal Empire
@amit your story about Ibrahim Khan is similar to what I’ve read..about him being of pathan origin who led the “gardis” my source is Kasi Rajas personal account of the third battle if panipat.
Most of the sources believe Ibrahim Gardi to have been a Dakhani Muslim, who may have assumed the title Khan as an honorific one.
Irrespective of his origins, the fact to be appreciated is that Ibrahim Gardi stood by the Maratha army to the end, and laid down his life for it.
Some wounds run deep. Yeah, some of us have a latent horror of a loose federal structure. That’s because of our inherent cussedness and selfishness. History is a good indicator in that respect. After a national identity is forged, from which we are still far off, I assume a loose federal structure would be a logical progression. What is law without a healthy mindset.
“After a national identity is forged, from which we are still far off, I assume a loose federal structure would be a logical progression.”
A tight national identity as a precusor to a loose federal structure is one of those chimera. Not in 4000 years of Indian history has there been such a thing and not in the next hundred or even thousand years will there be a tight national identity. For that to happen languages must die out, religion become irrelevant, skin colours merge into a uniform shade of brown, features morph around a national norm and cuisine and culture merge into an undistinguishable american pot pourri. Unlikely, I think, and therefore little chance of a loose federal structure.
India is today in one stage of a historical process whose end is not in sight. It is evolving towards something-but what? It is convenient to be living a stage of Indian history when a secular, democratic constitutional ethos prevails over the Indian part of the sub-continent. One hopes for its continuation, or its further evolution but one cannot be certain that a elusive national identity will emerge that can permit a looser federal structure.
You are assuming that national identity is host to boundaries of religion, language, color, etc. If such strict delineation exists, a nation cannot exist as an organic whole no matter how strong the center is. After all, where would the differences stop. As for the viability of a federal set up in such a case, that scenario is even worse. You are not doing history of the sub-continent a favor by concluding that India never existed as a logical entity. I can point out numerous sources that falsify that claim. A homogeneous entity is not necessarily a precursor to a whole nation like ours. What is necessary is that people believe in the idea of India itself no matter where their affiliation lies. In such a setup, a strong center would have no rationale for existence. Ottoman empire was never a homogeneous entity but it did exist for a substantial period of time. Of course, when it comes to longevity of such an entity, that totally depends on what direction that country takes. India broke up in past because there was an inner rottenness that ate any such idea from within.
I have reason for optimism that we may achieve that elusive goal. Mankind survives on hope. I also believe that for such an aim it is necessary for all the countries in sub-continent to have a secular democratic setup. India cannot exist as an island. Lest our brethren misconstrue this statement as lecturing, I would like to apologize in advance.
How can Indians like Amit etc admire Azad who sought inspiration from Ibn-e-Taimiyya and Shah Waliullah … but denounce Abdali …. Abdali who came to India on Shah Waliullah’s invitation?
The fault is not of Amit but the crooks who write India’s school textbooks.
PMA Sahib has written a reasonably balanced article on Ahmed Shah Abdali.
Abdali was admittedly a very charismatic leader and accomplished soldier of the day. However it would be a mistake to view him as a Muslim nationalist or even a religious holy warrior in the modern sense.
We have to remember that he lived in a time which was for all practical purposes still medieval times in South Asia. It was also a very unsettling time when an empire was unraveling quickly and all sorts of opportunist forces were jockeying for advantage. He was but one such opportunist among others (Marathas, The Sikhs, Asaf Jha etc) and used all opportunities available to him to further his goal of building an empire.
It is in this context that one must view the most important campaign of his life, the third battle of Panipat.
While Abdali very appropriately holds a central and honored place in Afghan history, his role importance to the history of the people of the present day Pakistan is fleeting at the best. At the beginning of the 18th century the Mughal Empire was unraveling fast and Abdali or no Abdali; Punjab had already become a trouble spot because of the Sikh rebellion.
Furthermore, the fact that Abdali’s former boss, Nadir Shah, dealt the Mughals a humiliating defeat (and subsequently carried out an emasculating massacre on the people of Delhi) meant that it was an open season on the civilian population; the religion of the hapless citizens of the Empire not withstanding.
In such a scenario, it is hard to imagine how the province of Punjab could be kept in the Empire in the face of the resurgent Sikh rebels. To his credit a later day Mughal, Mir Manu did try energetically to pacify Punjab using rather ruthless tactics but proved to be unsuccessful. Ironically the ever present Afghan pressure distracted him in his task.
The fact that the Mughal Emperor officially ‘ceded’ Punjab to Abdali in 1851 AD (and Mir Manu switched loyalties) meant nothing since the Sikh pressure remained relentless and after the untimely death of Mir Manu there was no one, either an Afghans or the Mughals who could hold and pacify Punjab.
In this sense, even Panipat III, was a Pyrrhic victory for Abdali; its effect was minimal in Punjab, a province Abdali wanted from the erstwhile Mughal empire.
Another interesting aside; the province of Kashmir too came under Afghan rule under Abdali and stayed there for about 67 years and by some accounts was considered an unhappy experience. This too was rather temporary and it was in turn conquered by the Sikhs under Ranjit Singh.
Considering these above events, had there been no Panipat III or even Abdali, the areas that are current day Pakistan would probably not have been much different.
Having said that, I must admit that due to time constraints the above points are written hastily and I have not researched the account thoroughly.
Any keen historian (especially if he is also a noble descendant of the great King) lurking around on the PTH is free to correct any or all of the above.
People are not that aware of Azad’s ideology.
He finds favor because he was in synch with Gandhiji. Gandhiji’s support of the Khilafat is an indication of his conservative views as far as Islam was concerned.
All in all, a super analysis. All other things apart, the single biggest event was the defeat of the Marathas.
Had that not happened, the Mughal “Emperor” would just have been a puppet of the Marathas. Removing the Maratha influence from the throne of Delhi was significant.
Wrt Mughals 1761 achieved nothing. They were already finished before that and they remained that way.
Yes, it did severely set back the Marathas but did not finish them off. Along with Tipu, they remained the only serious contender with Brits for power in India.
I agree that they were considerably weakened. However, when the Marathas were around, they had no say at all.
True, the Marathas survived the 3rd battle of Panipat. However, they won few friends. Their atrocities in East India were very well known.
This even provoked Ali Vardi Khan to massacre a large number, which effectively reduced our strength against the British.
Regarding Tipu Sultan, he could not completely step into Hyder Ali’s shoes, who had better credentials on a military as well as secular platform.
I should like to recapture your spirit. I seem to remember having it once, many many years ago.
If I may address your points serially;
1.”You are assuming that national identity is host to boundaries of religion, language, color, etc.”
Indeed I was. I have written earlier on this site that the only two nations I know of in the sub continent are Bangladesh and Kashmir. One is fully formed and the other aspirational. But, both have religious problems that prevent an inclusive nationality from emerging.
2.”You are not doing history of the sub-continent a favor by concluding that India never existed as a logical entity.”
My history reading is desultory and sometimes only cursory. I do not really understand what you mean by logical entity. I believe India never existed as a nation.
3.”A homogeneous entity is not necessarily a precursor to a whole nation like ours. What is necessary is that people believe in the idea of India itself no matter where their affiliation lies. In such a setup, a strong center would have no rationale for existence.”
I think you have put it very precisely even if as an abstraction. A ‘nation like ours’ is certainly unique, but Pakistan I believe shares in the uniqueness having spun off from the original. Believing in the idea of India is meaningless unless you can show that India means something. I was trying to approach your idea of an Indian identity on the basis of some commonly accepted markers. You say they are unnecessary. Why and what do we substitute for them?
4. “Ottoman empire was never a homogeneous entity but it did exist for a substantial period of time. Of course, when it comes to longevity of such an entity, that totally depends on what direction that country takes.”
India as a nation and India as an empire are two different things. Perhaps you misunderstood me. The Indian subcontinent has been home to many empires. Only the British Indian Empire covered the entire subcontinent. But empires like those of the Mughals, Ashoka and the Kushans covered areas of Afghanistan and Central Asia also. The subcontinent I take as the comprising present day India Pakistan and Bangla Desh, but excluding Nepal and Afghanistan. Did you mean that longevity of the current Indian entity depends upon the direction it takes? What direction do you think can ensure that longevity?
5. “India broke up in past because there was an inner rottenness that ate any such idea from within.”
Now only if we could isolate the virus spreading the rot and find a cure. If one has been found I missed reading about it.
There are just two things that Indians need to do which will change things drastically.
They need to be united the way they never were before.
They need to believe in themselves like they never did before.
India has existed as a single state on two occassions (the British had left 1/3rd to the princely states) Aurenzeb and Ashoka ..otherwise it’s always been fragmented in one way or the other.
history may have been very different if Ahmad Shah had actually replaced the Mughals with a new Afghan dynasty..he may well have lost Afghanistan and Punjab in the process.
i think gorki has answered your question for me.
Gorki (November 30, 2009 at 11:15 am):
Thanks for taking time and posting your comments. I agree with some of your points and disagree with other. I agree with you that Abdali was not a Muslim nationalist or a religious holy warrior in the modern sense. He was out to build his own empire at the expense of Isfahan as well as Delhi, both under Muslim control at that time. But it did not loose on him where to find political and military support for his cause.
By 1738 Delhi had already lost all of its territories west of Indus to the Persians. Abdali upon his ascension quickly captured Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh. I believe Abdali was a sharp political and military mind. He made political calculations a century ahead of the Muslim leadership of the post-1857 India. He had successfully forged political consensus among Afghan, Pashtun and Baloch tribes west of Indus to his favor. East of Indus his imperial ambitions did not extend beyond Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh. Why?
By mid eighteenth century demographically ‘east bank’ of Indus was pretty much Muslim dominated and politically still under the control of various Muslim Nawabs, Khans and Mirs. After subjugating them, he expediently made political and military alliances with local Muslim chiefs against Sikhs; one example being Mir Mannu. His biggest challenge within ‘east bank’ west of Sirhind only came from the emerging Sikhs of Punjab.
His attitude towards Mughals beyond ‘east bank’ was different. There he made alliances with the Rohilla Afghans and Mughals and helped the ‘Emperor’ to maintain his throne. He married himself and his son Timur into the royal family. His support for Ahmad Shah (Mughal), Alamgir II, Shah Alam and Prince Jawan Bukht is well documented.
However I disagree with your point that “had there been no Panipat III or even Abdali, the areas that are current day Pakistan would probably not have been much different.”
Had there not been Abdali the history of the sub-continent would have been very very different. Chances are that the Marhattas (with or without Mughal factions) would have been the masters of India. There would have been no Sikh kingdom and most likely no British Indian Empire (as we know it) and certainly no Pakistan.
Therefor I disagree with you that “his role importance to the history of the people of the present day Pakistan is fleeting at the best.” I maintain that for the areas now constituting Pakistan, 1747 is just as important and significant as 1947. The first date marks the end of the Mughal Empire and second the end of the British Empire.
Even if the Marathas had become the masters of India, it is doubtful whether they would have been able to maintain this for long.
They were not very good on people skills and had alienated all the Jats and Rajputs. They were also on hostile terms with the Rohillas and ali Vardi Khan.
In all likelihood, the British would still have conquered India.
Both Majumdar Da and Milind Kher are right.
The Mughals were finished anyway, Panipat III or not.
As I mentioned, Abdali too had only a very peripheral role (even in the medium term) in the affairs of the lands that later on became India and Pakistan.
It is my personal opinion that even as far as the Marathas went, the contribution to their decline by Panipat III is over estimated when one keeps in mind three other battles and dates, Plassey, Buxar and Yorktown in 1757, 1764 and 1781 respectively.
The first two ensured that a new military and political power, far modern than anything seen in India had made up its mind to become a dominant political rather than an economic only power. Once that happened, the native powers (who were still not very different either organisationly or militarily, than what they were during Panipat II) stood no chance and the final outcome was not in doubt.
Looking at it another way, the native powers, (Marathas and Afghans) already out of the semi finals and Panipat III was like playing for the 5th and 6th spot only.
Yorktown surrender in 1781 is important in that it sealed the fate of the British in America and forced them to concentrate on founding colonial empires elsewhere with a renewed vigor.
Incidently Lord Cornawallis (who was later the victorious general over Tipu Sultan) was the very same gentleman who feigned illness on the day his forces surrendered to the Americans under George Washingtion so as not to have to physically hand over his sword in surrender. The Americans let him off far easily than he did Tipu. 😉
I agree with you. Yes, the Brits did not have a choice other than concentrating elsewhere.
To look at another aspect of British rule, people have always talked about how shrewd and savvy they were. The fact remains that they had awesome courage too.
Subjugating the Sikhs and the Marathas and routing Tipu sultan was not the easiest of tasks. And yes, in world War II, the Brits whipped the Nazis.
We can hate them as much as we like, but they had what it takes.
the very same gentleman who feigned illness
he was an employee in the public sector then, and the private sector later. 🙂
I saw your remarks after I had posted mine. Did not mean to ignore you in my fist post. My response is there anyway.
BC: As long as mankind is around, some things will never change. 😉
Await any other asides, anecdotes YOU may have on this topic.
Gorki (November 30, 2009 at 9:49 pm):
In order to properly understand Abdali, we have to separate his political and military ambitions and roles ‘west’ and ‘east’ of Sirhind. He saw ‘west’ as his rightful empire and wanted to strengthen Mughal-Afghan control in the ‘east’ as long as Mughals did not challenge him in the ‘west’. He understood Marhattas as a major threat to both his Durrani Empire and to the Mughal Empire no mater how diminishing were the Mughals. You will agree with me that after Abdali, Sikhs were able to emerge in the absence of Marhatta threat. You could say that ‘Mughals were finished’, but factions of Mughal Empire, as we see in the case of Abdali Military Alliance of 1760 were still capable of fending off Marhatta Confederacy. If you read my article one more time, you will see that real ‘villain’ of the story is the scheming Mughal Grand Vazir Shahab-ud-din. In writing this piece I had consulted a number of sources. Most Afghans sources tend to glorify and magnify the historical role of Abdali. Similarly most Indian try to minimize his historical importance and cast him in the role of a villain. The truth perhaps lie somewhere in the middle. But now the discussion is entering into personal opinions and in the realm of ‘could have, should have’. So let it be. Thanks for taking part in the discussions.
last i checked it was the yanks who whipped the nazis — and a very cold and bleak moscow winter…
Two defining events:
1. The Battle of Britain
2. The landing at Normandy.
This is not to deny what you are talking about.
fair enough – i’d just like to think it was more of a collective effort then a single handed british victory.. especially normandy..
“His biggest challenge within ‘east bank’ west of Sirhind only came from the emerging Sikhs of Punjab.”
PMA Sahib: You nailed it. Everything else was a side show.
“I was trying to approach your idea of an Indian identity on the basis of some commonly accepted markers. You say they are unnecessary. Why and what do we substitute for them?”
A belief in secularism, and in the constitution of India that guarantees that would be enough.
Thanks to the media revolution of the closing decade of the 20th century, identity (and ideas)will continue to homogenize across wide zones, political unity or not.
Just look at us on the PTH
Gorki (December 1, 2009 at 12:50 am):
Let us say that Abdali saw Sikhs as internal threat to his Durrani Empire and Marhattas as external threat to both his and the remnants of Mughal Empire which he was trying to prop up. His failures are that he had unworthy successors in Kandahar and unworthy partners in Delhi. But if you think that his Delhi expeditions were sideshow, then I am afraid you have missed the gist of the Durrani period altogether.
Hayyer: References have been made here to Ashoka, Alamgir and Brits. Theirs were the empires whereas modern day India and Pakistan are federated republics with written constitutions. Bangladesh is a republic but not a federation whereas Kashmir is an occupied territory.
“I was trying to approach your idea of an Indian identity on the basis of some commonly accepted markers. You say they are unnecessary. Why and what do we substitute for them?”
Our constitution is a very good marker. As you said, our country is a work in progress and it forever will be. To doubt, to criticize, and then to improve should be our mantra. I guess, one can never go wrong with that. That would also cure the inner rottenness.
Guys one shouldn’t either overestimate or underestimate abdali and Panipat..yes the marathas recovered swiftly afterwards but it still remains a defining event because it marked the end of the myth of their invincibility, much like battles like lepanto or stalingrad.
Similarly, it left a major psychological impact on both the British East India company and the Mughal elite. The EIC acknowledged Durrani as “King of Kings” in correspondence, it led to them sending teams to strike an alliance with the “Kingdom of Kabul” against possible French or Russian advances and when during Shah Zemans time the afghans once again considered invading India ..the British went to extraordinary lengths to forestall the invasion including encouraging the Shah of Iran to attack Afghanistan. (Tipu Sultan and others pleaded with the Afghans to intervene against the British)
Also even as late as 1857 rumours were flying around amongst the rebels of an invasion from east that had routed the EIC..(tragic because it was the Punjab that provided the bulk of the troops to capture delhi)
“A belief in secularism, and in the constitution of India that guarantees that would be enough.
Thanks to the media revolution of the closing decade of the 20th century, identity (and ideas)will continue to homogenize across wide zones, political unity or not.”
A belief in secularism and the ideas behind the Indian Constitution are enough to make one a citizen of the world. There is nothing specifically Indian about the two.
Homogeneity will eventually come to the whole world as a result of the media, the internet and easier travel, unless visas hold them up. Nothing India specific about that either.
The danger of a homogeneity specific to India is that it will be either be a Bollywood type mongrel, or a deracinated western style found in the metros. I prefer the latter though, if offered a choice.
Theirs were the empires whereas modern day India and Pakistan are federated republics with written constitutions. Bangladesh is a republic but not a federation whereas Kashmir is an occupied territory.
I am not convinced that they are not empires posing as republics, except for Bangladesh. Kashmir is not occupied territory. India went in on an invitation from the Maharaja who did not make it conditional on a subsequent plebiscite. That was in the Indian acceptance on Mountbatten’s advice.
“Our constitution is a very good marker. As you said, our country is a work in progress and it forever will be. To doubt, to criticize, and then to improve should be our mantra. I guess, one can never go wrong with that. That would also cure the inner rottenness.”
On the constitution my remarks to Gorki explain my point.
I have nothing at all against positivist views on nation building. I had only outlined the normative necessities. It is a work in progress and like any patriotic Indian I wish it success with all my heart, but that does not blind me to the conventional normative requirements.
“Homogeneity will eventually come to the whole world as a result of the media, the internet and easier travel, unless visas hold them up. Nothing India specific about that either.”
You are right and that should answer your question about the federal vs central structure. It would just follow the utopian ideal that the world is one family. After all, we were the first to say “vasudhev kutumbkum.”
There will always be some problem. The important question is what direction are we taking. The constitution, as I said, is a fabulous document to follow.
whereas modern day India and Pakistan are federated republics with written constitutions
no one has told our soldier emperors or general shahi that. they still think they run an empire. even kayani has shown over the last couple of years that he has great difficulty reading the written constitution.
But we are also the first to degrade entire nations to untouchability. That does not sit very well with ‘Vasudev Kutukbkum’ does it?
It took, what, 2000 years from entry through Khyber or Bolan to descent to Tirunelvelli. Over those two millenia nearly everything the invader encountered became untouchable unless it could be absorbed and assimilated. Rather like the Borg, don’t you think?
“A belief in secularism and the ideas behind the “Indian Constitution are enough to make one a citizen of the world. There is nothing specifically Indian about the two.
Homogeneity will eventually come to the whole world as a result of the media, the internet and easier travel, unless visas hold them up. Nothing India specific about that either.”
Dear Hayyer Sahib:
Agree with above and I can happily live with that. In fact, in my reading between the lines of the Indian Constitution, I think that is the ultimate goal. I believe Amit and I are basically saying the same thing, except he stated it more eloquently.
As India and Indians become more self confident, becoming a citizen of the world should not dilute their Indianness or any other identity that they may want to be associated with. It is another thing that not everyone in the world sees things this way.
That is OK with me too, as long as they leave us (Indian\World citizens) alone and not insist that we follow their worldview.
PMA and Hayyer Sahib:
How does one decide what is occupied territory and what is not?
I can understand Palestine but is Kashmir?
Then what about Jammu and Ladakh?
Or even Tibet and Xinjiang?
Is Quebec occupied? or California and Texas; the entire United States?
Or may be I am asking the wrong question.
Is the 20th century nationalism relevant anymore?
“But we are also the first to degrade entire nations to untouchability. That does not sit very well with ‘Vasudev Kutukbkum’ does it?”
That is the inner rottenness that I was talking about.
Thank you Gorki for your comments.