Ahmed Shah Abdali – Afghanistan’s Father of the nation


Many will be surprised to know that Ahmed Shah Abdali is regarded as the ‘ Father of the nation ‘ by all of Afghanistan . This post will try to examine as to how did Abdali come to acquire this exalted status amongst his country men . If merely imperialism was the key , then Mohammad Ghori , Ghaznavi can lay a better claim . Although he too indulged in loot , plunder , killing kafirs and razing temples ; that alone would not help him built an empire and win Panipat III against the formidable Marathas . I shall try to examine Abdali purely from a political and military POV , shorn of any religious or emotional bent .

1) Tutelage under Nadir Shah : 

Most Indians come across Abdali only with reference to 1761 . Before that he is regarded a non entity ! But the fact is , that Abdali earned his spurs under Nadir Shah himself ! He was present as a 17 yr old in the Persian’s king’s army as early as 1739 , when Nadir Shah carried away the Peacock throne and koh i noor . Undoubtedly , the campaign must have helped Abdali gain vital experience and a ‘feel’ of the politics in India . Infact , his tribe was part of the personal bodyguard of Nadir Shah .

2) Campaigns to Khorasan 

Abdali undertook campaigns to Herat , Nishapur , Mashad on the boundary of today’s Afghanistan in 1750 and 1751 . Apart from learning to fight in the bitter cold against well entrenched enemies , Abdali also learned a thing or two about politics and treachery during those few years .
On the first campaign of the region  , Saiffudin Khan , a Nishapur noble kept Abdali outside the gates . He promised to settle Nishapur’s internal feuds and join Abdali . But the promise never materialised ! After weeks of waiting , Abdali found that he was losing his soldiers to frostbite . He lost more when crossing the Heri Rood .. a frozen river which cracked under the weight of the artillery . The whole episode , throughout which Abdali stayed with his army , must have taught many things to Abdali . Ahmed Shah returned the next year , and conquered these places . This habit of ‘travelling with the camp’ is another reason why Abdali is held in high regard by the Afghans . Military leaders who have been part of the military camp , Attila the Hun , Napolean , Bajirao and others have always commanded respect .

3) Indian campaigns 

Abdali started off with a vow to unite all Pakhtuns , we could say he had a nascent notion of ‘nation’ . His first attack on India though , ended in defeat at Sirhind . But Abdali had the brains to retreat and return to fight another day . What he could not achieve in 1748 , he achieved in 1751 . Panipat was his 5th invasion , showing that he must have had some sort of working knowledge of the region , experience gained through 4 previous invasions .

4) Influence on Pakhtuns of India : 

The Pathans in India , at the time of Abdali , dominated the Rohilkhand region of today’s western UP . The areas around Rae Bareilly . They formed a curious mixture of religious zealots and Pashtun ‘nationalists’ forever allied to their ruler in Kandahar . The fact that people like Najib ud Daulah and Sadullah Khan regarded Ahmed Shah Abdali of far away Kandahar as their ‘leader ‘ shows a couple of things . One , that Abdali’s leadership over the warring tribes must have been worth noting , so much so that disparate Pakhtuns even in Rohilkhand looked up to him . Secondly , the ‘nationalist’ nature of Pakhtun politics should not be overlooked here . Najib wanted to maintain Pathan control over Ganga – Jamuna doab , and for this , he even opposed Muslims sometimes .

5) Nusir Khan Baloch 

Abdali had a blow hot , blow cold relation with the Baloch . Nusir Khan resented his crowning , but was present on all those raids on Herat etc . He was with Abdali during the invasion of 1756 . But the issue of the zikri sect and Nusir Khan Baloch refusal to pay tribute to Abdali  is where Abdali’s diplomacy shines through . Although Abdali laid seige to Kalat and clashed with the Baloch near Mustang over the shelter given to the zikris , the issue was settled quickly . Inspite of suffering a 5 month long seige , Abdali was able to once again win Nusir Khan Baloch over to his side , and convince him to join him for India’s fifth invasion .

Ofcourse , Panipat was given a religious colour by Shah Wali Ullah and Najib ud Daulah , but that alone did not help Abdali win or become Afghan ‘ rashtrapita ‘ .His empire stretched from today’s Mashad – Herat to Baltistan in PoK and from the Uzbekistan – Tajikistan region to the precints of Indus .  I believe above post has cast sufficient light on the topic .

In my book , a historical novel   ‘ Sahyadris to Hindukush ‘ I have tried to touch upon some of these aspects and the events surrounding them in a dramatized manner .

© Aneesh Gokhale 

Published by Aneesh Gokhale

Author - "Brahmaputra - The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji" , "Sahyadris to Hindukush" and " Battles of the Maratha Empire". Written over thirty five articles for a history column in DNA Newspaper. Published on many occasions in online publications such as IndiaFacts , Swarajya , TFI , Creative India , Indic Today and others. Given talks on Maratha and Assamese history at Pune Intl Lit Fest , INTACH (Delhi), Wadia College (Pune), Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (Mumbai), Thakur College's TCET Talk (Mumbai), Pondy Lit Fest (Pondicherry), various Rotary Clubs and educational institutions in Pune and Mumbai. Also, qualified to navigate a ship.

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