AHMAD SHAH DURRANI

FIRST AFGHAN KING

In normal circumstances Pashtoon tribal does not make for national unity. This was as true in the eighteenth century as it is today. Of the two Pashtoon tribes, the Ghilzai and the Abdali, the Ghilzai in particular had scored spectacular military successes against the might of the Mughal Empire, but they could never administer and control the areas that they managed to conquer. In fact, despite the formidable fighting qualities of the Pashtoon, it was a chief of the Afshars, a Turkish tribe in Persia, who took advantage of the chaos left when the Mughal empire began to crumble.

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adir Khan crowned himself Nadir Shah and began consolidating his insecure

position by expanding from Persia eastwards towards the Pashtoon areas. One of his earliest and most serious problems was how to deal with the Pashtoon tribes and their antagonism towards any prospective conqueror. However Nadir Shah exploited Pashtoon weaknesses so effectively that, by his death in 1747, Pashtoons were not only his trusted followers but also formed his personal bodyguard. His own kinsfolk and other Persian tribes he regarded as a threat. He played on the rivalries between the Ghilzais and Abdalis, using the latter to fight against the former. He exiled whole sections of them and other tribes and then incorporated many of the chiefs from both tribes into his Persian army.

In 1747 Nadir Shah was assassinated, leaving the Pashtoons in his army heavily outnumbered and under great threat from the Persians. The Pashtoon chiefs met and held a jirga to try to find some form of leadership and a common policy to regain their lands in Afghanistan and keep the Persians out. The jirga chose 23year-old Ahmad Khan. He was young, a good warrior, and came from one of the smaller clans of the Abdali, and was thus regarded as less likely to be a threat to the powerful chiefs of the larger clans. Ahmad Shah became King of a people whose lives were governed by this established tribal system, which is still very persistent up to this day. He was elected by representatives of the western tribes, whom Ghubar lists as follows: 'Nur Mohammad Khan Mir Afghan, leader of the Ghilzais; Mohabat Khan, leader of the Popolzais; Musa Khan, leader of the Ishakzais; Nasrullah Khan, leader of the Nurzais; Jamal Khan, leader of Barakzais; and others'. Although the majority of the chief who elected him was from the Abdali and Ghilzai subtribes, non-the less other [non-Pashtoon] minorities were also represented, such as the Qazilbash and the Turkomans. The new King was well aware of the jealousy and antagonism existing between tribes, and he never tried to interfere in their local matters. He brought representatives of the khans and maliks [chief, usually landowning] to his council of nine elders. This council, which was one of the most democratic features of his governmental system, was infect representing the whole tribal network. Its members could be elected or re-elected as seen fit both by the King himself and by the people they represented. Ahmad Shah consulted this council on many important matters, such as the raising of taxes, the army, or declarations of war. Having had the consent of this body, his action was thus very much in line with public opinion. As an Afghan himself, he knew exactly how far he could go, and never attempted to violate any tradition, even though it might be hindering the fulfilment of his ambition for a strong [Pashtoon] nation. Finally, but of a vital importance, Ahmad Shah exemplified to his fellow Pashtoons all that an ideal Pashtoon should be. A good warrior, religious, generous, strong, he was described by a contemporary as: 'Tall and robust, and inclined to being fat. His face is remarkably broad, his beard very black and his complexion moderately fair. His appearance upon the whole is majestic and expressive of an uncommon dignity and strength of mind.' He was a man to whom being a Pashtoon was more important than the trapping of decadent kingship--trapping which to his fellow tribesmen were more associated with the Persians or Mughals. His well-known statement, 'Nowhere in the world can replace the ground on which one crawled in childhood' ,stamped him as being a Pashtoon first and an empire-builder second. He was a man of charisma, who, like the famous Khattak chief Khushal before him, was able to express some of his Pashtoon qualities in poetry: By blood, we are immersed in love of you The youth lose their heads for your sake. I come to you and my heart finds rest

Away from you, grief clings to my heart like a snake. I forgot the throne of Delhi When I remember the mountain tops of my Pashtoon land If I must choose between the World and you, I shall not hesitate to claim your barren deserts as my own. A part of his strength was his modesty. He did not surround himself with the trapping of pomp like so many other Asian monarchs of his time; indeed he did not even have a crown. He claimed to be working as the servant of God and could rely on his devotion to Islam as a further strengthening of his political portion: I capture every province with the aid of God: It is with his help that I go everywhere without failure. Yet I, Ahmad, consider the world worthless and unimportant. I shall leave the world behind and go to the next, armed only with my faith. When Ahmad Shah moved eastwards through the Khyber Pass, he was welcomed by the eastern Pashtoon tribes. Wazirs in the south, Yusufzais in the north, and powerful Afridis, Mohmands, Shinwaris, Niazis and Khattaks in between all offered allegiance. It was a unique alliance that was regarded as the most remarkable achievement of his age. Indeed, on Ahmad Shah's gravestone were carved the words: Ahmad Shah Durrani was a great king! Such was the fear of his justice, the lion and The hind lived peacefully together. The ears of his enemies were incessantly deafened By the noise of his conquests. Under no other leader have such disparate tribes united before or since. From the auspicious beginning of his reign until his death twenty-five years later, Ahmad Shah moulded a major Pashtoon empire, which stretched from Sabsavar in Persia in the west to Srinigar in the east, from Balkh in the north to Karachi in the south. He showed the Persians, Indians and the empire building British that the Pashtoons were a nation and a political threat to be feared and opposed. Ahmad Shah died at the age of 51. After his death, the resurgence of traditional tribal rivalries, no longer kept in check by a leader's charisma, enabled the old

enemies of the Pashtoons--the Sikhs, Turkomans, Persians and Kashmiris--and even other Pashtoon tribes to nibble away at the short-lived empire. Oh, Ahmad, life passes by for every man; In other times, [Pashtoons] will take pride in the memory of your sword. If my sword thunders, brightening the darkness with its lightning gleam, It is my love for my country that triumphantly conquers in every direction. Before the death, Ahmad Shah attempted to find the right successor, a son to preserve the unity of the tribes. But the inevitable process of fusion and fission had already begun. Louis Dupree aptly described this process when discussing Afghan affairs of the nineteenth century: A strong man would rise and unite several tribes into a confederation and expand it as far as his military prowess, political intrigues, and boudoir proclivities (i.e., marrying daughters or sisters of conquered leaders to himself, or to his sons) would allow. At the death (or even before) of such charismatic leaders, his sons, brothers or other close kin would contest for power, fissionable exercise which broke up the empire into tribal units. Ahmad Shah rejected his eldest son and most obvious heir because, he claimed, he was unnecessarily violent and was not respected by the tribes. He had more faith in his second son, Timur, who was reluctantly accepted by the tribal chiefs following his father's death. But even among his own tribe, the Durranis, Timur did not have the kind of support that his father had enjoyed. Although Timur appeared to be competent administrator, he did not have his father's taste for expansion and conquest. The different tribes lapsed in to their traditional habit of fighting independently and by the time the British had decided an 'Afghan policy' was essential for the well-being of India, the 'Kingdom of Kabul' was both smaller and less stable. Ahmad Shah's twenty-five years of Pashtoon glory had left the illusion of an ordered kingdom. It took the British decades to understand the reality.