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 

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