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Who was Ahmad Shah Durrani?

    In the history of Afghanistan, there have been many mighty rulers and sovereigns, however, one stood out from all of them. He was a pious, patriotic, and merciful man who had all the profound traits of an exceptional leader, and ruled his lands with justice. He not only became the hero of all Afghans but also saved Islam in the subcontinent. In this video, we will go through the chapters of the life of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the Afghan ruler who united the Afghan tribes and became the founder of modern Afghanistan, as well as the father of his nation.  

Ahmad Shah Durrani

    Ahmad Khan Abdali was born in Herat, in 1723. He was the son of Zaman Khan, and the grandson of Dawlat Khan. He was from the Pashtun Sadouzai Tribe, a sub tribe of the Abdali Tribe. The story starts in 1732 CE, in Farah, Afghanistan, when Ahmad Khan's older brother, Zulfiqar Khan was defeated by his enemies. Zulfiqar Khan took his younger brother Ahmad Khan with him and fled to Kandahar, where they sought refuge. At the time, Shah Hussein, the son of Mirwais Hotek, the legendary Afghan ruler, was the ruling chief of Kandahar. However, due to the ongoing turmoil, tribal conflicts, and many imminent dangers, the Shah imprisoned Zulfiqar Khan and his younger brother Ahmad Khan, who at the time, only aged ten years. Thus, the two brothers spent six years in jail. However, once Nader Afshar took over Kandahar, in 1738, Ahmad and his brother were freed and sent to Mazandaran, a province in Iran. 

    Nader Afshar noticed the intelligence and potential of Ahmad Khan, who was then 16 years old, and so he took a liking to him, making him among his close men. And so he would give Ahmad Khan multiple positions throughout the years, such as his personal attendant, the governor of Mazandaran, the commander of a regiment, which consisted of his fellow Abdali tribesmen as well as Uzbeks, the head of the body guard, and the head of the treasury. Ahmad Khan would accompany Nader Afshar in his conquests for 6 years, traveling to through Persia, Daghestan, India, and gaining experience in the affairs of empires. During these conquests, Ahmad Khan was appointed as the governor of various cities. It was around this time that Nizam-Ul-Mulk Khan Asad Jah, a former prime minister and acclaimed expert in physiognomy saw Ahmad and told Nadir Shah that he saw in him the signs of greatness and said that he was destined to soon become a king. Nadir Shah not only believed him and agreed, but also had a talk with the young Abdali, of which there are even written accounts of: "Remember Ahmad Khan Abdali, that after me kingship will pass on to you. But you shall treat the descendants of Nadir with kindness." Abdali would keep his promise by having his son son, Timur Shah, rescue the grandson of Nader Shah, Mirza Shah Rukh, out of prison. However, Nader Shah became a paranoid ruler and started oppressing his own people. Thus, On June 20, 1747, Nader Afshar was assassinated by his own generals in Tabaristan (in Fath Abad). Ahmad Shah Durrani then took it upon himself to protect the family of Nader Afshar, and so in return one of the Afghan wives of the Shah gave him the Kooh-i-noor diamond, along with other valuables. Ahmad Shah then gathered the Afghans of the deceased Shah's army and headed to Kandahar.

    Ahmad Shah then arrived in Kandahar with the valuables given to him, and in the shrine of Shayr Surkh, a Loya Jirga was held. This Jirga continued for many days, however, the tribal chiefs and elders could not come to a conclusion as to who was to be their king. On the ninth day of the meetings, an elderly saint by the name of Sabir Shah requested the Jirga to allow him to elect the leader of the tribes. This proposal was accepted by all the tribal chiefs, and so the saint went on to plant the wheat spikelets in the turban of Ahmad Khan, who up until now had been sitting quietly in the Jirga, and had not presented himself as a candidate for leadership. Just like that, all the tribal chiefs and elders accepted Ahmad Shah as their new sovereign. Since Ahmad Khan Abdali was already a man of noble descent, an intelligent & charismatic leader, an expert in the field of war, and a talented & just ruler, it was easy for the chiefs to accept the decision. On top of that, Ahmad Khan was from the small Sadozai sub-tribe of the Abdalis and would be less likely to incite tribal rivalries. Speaking of the Abdali Tribe, it was at this time that Sabir Shah named Ahmad Shah "Durr-i-Durran", or "pearl of pearls". Thus, the Abdali clan was thenceforward called Durrani, and from then on, Ahmad Khan Abdali would be known as Ahmad Shah Durrani.

    Ahmad Shah had stepped into a regional vacuum of power, where the fearsome Afghan tribes held the center. The Moghul Empire was in sever decline, increasingly helpless against Afghan attacks from the mountains while faced with growing pressure from Hindu insurgencies to its south. Persia was in a state of near anarchy, trying to hold back the Ottomans to its west while awaiting another man on horseback to restore its former glory under the Safavids. North of the Amu Darya, the Uzbeks had devolved into a series of tyrannical emirates with an economy reliant on robbery and slave trading. While Europe sat on the verge of its industrial revolution, across Southern Asia urban centers were in decline, with economies reverting to subsistence. A significant part of the problem was that in the 17th and 18th centuries international trade had moved to the sea lanes, and by this time, the New World had siphoned off much the commercial energy from the Old. In addition, indigenous political systems, consisting mainly of local despots, failed to establish the law and order and the basic requisites needed for trade and commerce. And now Ahmad Shah and the Afghans emerged, en route to the greatest territorial expansion in their history.

    At just 25 years old, in the year 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani was crowned king of the Afghan tribes, in a ceremony at a mosque in Kandahar. However, just days after assuming his new title, Ahmad Shah received a great stroke of fortune when a richly laden caravan lumbered into Kandahar from India, unaware that Nadir Shah had been killed. Thus, the caravan's treasure landed in the hands of Ahmad Shah, which gave him the perfect start to his reign, as he could use that wealth to strengthen his royal authority. 

    However, Ahmad Shah Durrani had a most difficult task ahead of him: he had to found a monarchy among warlike and independent people, who had never been accustomed to a system of governance. However, with his intelligence, Ahmad Shah won the support of all the tribal chiefs. He governed with the help of a council of elder 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 became a prevailing political pattern in Afghanistan until the monarchy ended in 1973. 

    Ahmad Shah heavily influenced the Afghans with foreign wars, and with conquests, he could maintain and supply an army. He created an excellent system in which the tribal chiefs would be his advisors, and in turn they would send their warriors with him when it was time for battle. And in the end, Ahmad Shah would give them fixed amounts of money. Thus, the Afghans would begin an epic 25 years of conquest and expeditions. Between 1747 and 1748, Ahmad Shah conquered Ghazi from the Ghilzais, and worked his way up to Kabul and then to Peshawar. By 1750, Durrani and his army controlled Punjab, Sindh and Kashmir, and Nishapur. Throughout the years 1749-1751, the areas stretching from the Amu Darya to Oman, and from the shores of India until the midst of Iran were all controlled by the Durranis. And by 1757, Ahmad Shah controlled all of modern day Afghanistan. However, in 1761, the Durrani empire reached its peak, ruling over more than 2 million square kilometers, and subjugating the kingdoms of the Mughul's, the Baloch (Khanate of Kalat), the Aimaq, and the Kalhoras. Ahmad Shah Durrani had become the Shah of various nations, ethnicities, and countries. Next to the Ottoman Empire, the Durrani Empire had become the most strongest, largest, and most impactful Muslim empire of its time.

The Durrani Empire at its peak

    After Ahmad Shah besieged the city of Mashhad (in Persia), the Persian king then married his daughter, Gauhar Shad, to Ahmad Shah's son, Prince Timur. This marriage would have an everlasting effect on Afghanistan, as the Farsi language would then be used as the main language in the Durrani administration (in place of the native Pashto language). 

    After Ahmad Shah Durrani established his administration and strengthened the foundation of his government, it wouldn't be long before he would be known as one of the greatest Muslim rulers of all of Asia. It was at this time that the leader of the Indian Muslims, Shah Waliullah Dehlawi sent a plea to him on behalf of the Indian intellectuals, which stated that the Marathas and other Hindus were unjustly murdering Indian Muslims, disrespecting their sacred and holy places, and violating the property and honor of the Muslims. Ahmad Shah was deeply afflicted by this news, and as a fellow Muslim ruler, he saw that he was compelled to save the Muslims of the subcontinent from Hindu aggression. Thus, Ahmad Shah assembled his army which consisted of 60,000 cavalry and infantry to challenge the 200,000-4,000,000 strong army, which consisted of Rajputs, Marathas, and other Hindus on the battlefield. In this battle, the backbone of the Marathas would be broken, as 100,000-200,000 of them died in the battle, and 50,000 horses, 200,000 cows, 500 elephants, 4,000 camels, and 22,000 prisoners would be gained by Ahmad Shah's army. All prisoners of the Hindu army were forgiven with the exception Ibrahim Khan Gardi, a Muslim general who worked for the Maratha Army.

    Despite being crushed on the battlefield, the Sikhs would become a problem for the Durranis, as they would keep revolting and using the tactic of guerrilla warfare to end Durrani rule in the Punjab. Every time the Durranis would pursue them, the Sikhs would go into hiding, and resort to hit and go tactics. However, as soon as the Afghan armies would leave to elsewhere, the Sikhs would once again rise in revolt. Thus, Ahmad Shah was unable to hold onto Punjab, as it would let on fall under the rule of the Sikhs.

    Ahmad Shah Durrani created an inclusive state, in which Afghans where the bedrock of the army, Shia Qizilbash would be administrators, Shia Hazaras were governors, Baluch and Turkmen were soldiers, and Mughul princesses were his wives. Thus, although he was a patriotic Afghan, he was not a nationalist. Ahmad Shah was a beacon of hope at a time when oppression and tyrannical rule was widespread. Thus, he became the hero and pride of not just Afghans, but all Muslims, whether Shia or Sunni, Afghan or Indian. 

    Ahmad Shah Durrani was like a father to his people, and thus, he was named 'Baba', meaning father. Ahmad Shāh Bābā was a pious, patriotic, knowledge advocating, just and merciful man who had all the great Islamic traits. He was a man known for his praiseworthy character, and also very pious and steadfast in his religion. At the same time, Ahmad Shah cared very much for his culture and traditions. Although he had lived a very nice life from a young age (as his father was the governor of Herat and had close connections with the Persian ruler, Nader Shah, and of course, later on he himself had become an esteemed military commander, Ahmad Shah never let the luxuries of life get to him. He remained humble and steadfast to his religion, Islam. Despite his vast kingdom and his renowned name, he did not wear a crown, and instead tied a turban. He wore boots and instead of reclining on a throne, he sat on a rug or even the bare floor. He would always use just means for solutions, and throughout his 27 year reign, he was not known o have spent one hour in extravagance or luxury. He did not even enjoy hunting. In the battlefield, Ahmad Shah never turned his back for the enemy. And when it came to punishment, he prohibited the amputating of body parts. Ahmad Shah Durrani's meals were very simple, as they were prepared according to the regular Afghan norms and tradition of the time. Durrani had also advised his sons: "do not behead the enemies, and do not permit anyone to bow don to you as you are the king. Instead we shall stand up and greet one another while raising a hand to our heads, as we only bow down to Allah." He said this despite the tradition of the time. Ahmad Shah was a firm, brave valiant. He showed mercy to the poor and the weak, and forgave the ones who made mistakes, however, he was harsh to the oppressors. If one did good to Ahmad Shah Durrani he would never forget. His loyalty was to such an extent, that he always showed kindness and respect to Nader Afshar's family until the day he died. Ahmad Shah experienced the highs and lows of life, which made him a man of strong personality. He only gave positions to those who were worthy of them. And he himself was also a scholar and a poet, as well as a warrior and a conqueror who possessed great honor and dignity.

    Many historians believe Ahmad Shah's accession to the head of the Afghan tribes in 1747 marks the birth of the Afghan nation. Ahmad Shah was an Afghan who put his country before his tribe in a manner indistinguishable from modern patriotism. His words, in a poem he wrote in Pashto certainly reinforce the latter view:

"By blood, we are immersed in love of you.
The youth lose their heads for your sake.
I coem to you and my heart finds rest.
Away from you, grief clings to my heart like a snake. I forget the throne of Delhi
When I remember the mountain tops of my Afghan land.
If I must choose between the world and you,
I shall not hesitate to claim your barren deserts as my own."

    Although the Ghaznavids and Chords had established empires from within Afghanistan many centuries earlier, their ruling dynasties were not indigenous Afghans, and rather Turkic. The Durrani achievement was to raise the indigenous Pashtun Afghans themselves into a province that, in the Muslim world of the 18th century, was matched only by the Ottomans. Ahmad Shah was not just some tribal chieftain, but rather, he was indeed the man who guided Afghanistan from its role as a boundary or no-man's land between other empires into an independent political entity which, like Ahmad himself, deceived respect. His direct line would last as kings in Afghanistan until 1818, whereupon another branch of the Durranis would continue in office until the Communist coup of 1973. 

    Ahmad Shah Baba passed away in 1773. He left behind a vast empire as an inheritance for the Afghan nation. However, due to conflicts within the (royal) family and foreign intervention, the Afghans were unable to preserve it, as it would soon be divided. Many of the Durrani Empire's vast regions would fall under the control of its neighboring realms, so much so that two million square kilometers of land would be replaced with only 650,000 square kilometers of land. Though, Ahmad Shah made the Afghans masters of their own land, as the Afghan nation would forever remain a free nation, even at a time when just about the entire Muslim world would submit to western colonization or imperialism. And forever would they remain a force to reckon with.


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