After the assassination of Nader Shah Afshar in 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani was chosen as King of Afghanistan. Rallying his Afghan tribes and allies, he pushed east towards the Mughal and the Maratha empires of India, west towards the disintegrating Afsharid Empire of Persia, and north toward the Khanate of Bukhara. Within a few years, he extended his control from Khorasan in the west to Kashmir and North India in the east, and from the Amu Darya in the north to the Arabian Sea in the south.
Durrani's mausoleum is located at Kandahar, Afghanistan, adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak in the center of the city. Afghans often refer to him as Ahmad Shāh Bābā ("Ahmad Shah the Father").
Durrani was born in or about 1722 to Mohammad Zaman Khan, chief of the Abdali tribe and Governor of Herat, and Zarghuna Alakozai. There has been some debate about Durrani's exact place of birth. Most believe that he was born in Herat, Afghanistan. He was born as Ahmed Khan. Abdali's father suffered "Persian captivity for many years" at Kirman before being released from prison in 1715. As a refugee, he "made his way to India" and joined his kinsmen at Multan. After he raised his family there, he was recognized as the "scion of hereditary Sadozai chiefs". It is believed that Zaman Khan returned to Afghanistan to fight the Persians and his Afghan rivals, but left one of his wives at Multan because she was "in the family way". So other sources believe that, Abdali was born at Multan in 1722, after which she returned to Afghanistan to reunite with her husband. He lost his father during his infancy.
Durrani's forefathers were Sadozais but his mother was from the Alakozai tribe. In June 1729, the Abdali forces under Zulfiqar had surrendered to Nader Shah Afshar, the rising new ruler of Persia. However, they soon began a rebellion and took over Herat as well as Mashad. In July 1730, he defeated Ibrahim Khan, a military commander and brother of Nader Shah. This prompted Nader Shah to retake Mashad and also intervene in the power struggle of Harat. By July 1731, Zulfiqar returned to his capital Farah where he had been serving as the governor since 1726. A year later Nadir's brother Ibrahim Khan took control of Farah. During this time Zulfiqar and the young Durrani fled to Kandahar where they took refuge with the Ghiljis. They were later made political prisoners by Hussain Hotak, the Ghilji ruler of the Kandahar region.
Nader Shah had been enlisting the Abdalis in his army since around 1729. After conquering Kandahar in 1738, Durrani and his brother Zulfiqar were freed and provided with leading careers in Nader Shah's administration. Zulfiqar was made Governor of Mazandaran while Durrani remained working as Nader Shah's personal attendant. The Ghiljis, who are originally from the territories east of the Kandahar region, were expelled from Kandahar in order to resettle the Abdalis along with some Qizilbash and other Persians.
Durrani proved himself in Nader Shah's service and was promoted from a personal attendant (yasāwal) to command the Abdali Regiment, a cavalry of four thousand soldiers and officers. The Abdali Regiment was part of Nader Shah's military during his invasion of the Mughal Empire in 1738.
Popular history has it that the Shah could see the talent in his young commander. Later on, according to Pashtun legend, it is said that in Delhi Nader Shah summoned Durrani, and said, "Come forward Ahmad Abdali. Remember Ahmad Khan Abdali, that after me the Kingship will pass on to you. Nader Shah recruited him because of his "impressive personality and valour" also because of his "loyalty to the Persian monarch".
Nader Shah's rule abruptly ended in June 1747 when he was assassinated by his own guards. The guards involved in the assassination did so secretly so as to prevent the Abdalis from coming to their King's rescue. However, Durrani was told that the Shah had been killed by one of his wives. Despite the danger of being attacked, the Abdali contingent led by Durrani rushed either to save the Shah or to confirm what happened. Upon reaching the Shah's tent, they were only to see his body and severed head. Having served him so loyally, the Abdalis wept at having failed their leader, and headed back to Kandahar. Before the retreat to Kandahar, he had "removed" the royal seal from Nader Shah's finger and the Koh-i-Noor diamond tied "around the arm of his deceased master". On their way back to Kandahar, the Abdalis had "unanimously accepted" Durrani as their new leader. Hence he "assumed the insignia of royalty" as the "sovereign ruler of Afghanistan".
At the time of Nadir's death, he commanded a contingent of Abdali Pashtuns. Realizing that his life was in jeopardy if he stayed among the Persians who had murdered Nader Shah, he decided to leave the Persian camp, and with his 4,000 troops he proceeded to Qandahar. Along the way and by sheer luck, they managed to capture a caravan with booty from India. He and his troops were rich; moreover, they were experienced fighters. In short, they formed a formidable force of young Pashtun soldiers who were loyal to their high-ranking leader.
One of Durrani's first acts as chief was to adopt the titles Padishah-i-Ghazi ("victorious emperor"), and Durr-i-Durrani ("pearl of pearls" or "pearl of the age").
Following his predecessor, Durrani set up a special force closest to him consisting mostly of his fellow Durranis and other Pashtuns, as well as Tajiks, Qizilbash and other Muslims. He began his military conquest by capturing Ghazni from the Ghiljis and then wresting Kabul from the local ruler, and thus strengthened his hold over Khorasan. Leadership of the various Afghan tribes rested mainly on the ability to provide booty for the clan, and Durrani proved remarkably successful in providing both booty and occupation for his followers. Apart from invading the Punjab region three times between the years 1747–1753, he captured Herat in 1750.
Abdali invaded the Mughal Empire seven times from 1748 to 1767. According to Jaswant Lal Mehta, Durrani aroused the Afghans "religious passions" to fire and "sword into the land of infidels India." He crossed the Khyber pass in December 1747 with 40,000 troops for his first invasion of India. He occupied Peshawar without any opposition. He first crossed the Indus River in 1748, the year after his ascension – his forces sacked and absorbed Lahore. The following year (1749), the Mughal ruler was induced to cede Sindh and all of the Punjab including the vital trans Indus River to him, in order to save his capital from being attacked by the forces of the Durrani Empire. Having thus gained substantial territories to the east without a fight, Durrani and his forces turned westward to take possession of Herat, which was ruled by Nader Shah's grandson, Shah Rukh. The city fell to the Afghans in 1750, after almost a year of siege and bloody conflict; the Afghan forces then pushed on into present-day Iran, capturing Nishapur and Mashhad in 1751. Durrani then pardoned Shah Rukh and reconstituted Khorasan, but a tributary of the Durrani Empire. This marked the westernmost border of the Afghan Empire as set by the Pul-i-Abrisham, on the Mashhad-Tehran road.
The Mughal power in northern India had been declining since the reign of Aurangzeb, who died in 1707. In 1751–52, the Ahamdiya treaty was signed between the Marathas and Mughals, when Balaji Bajirao was the Peshwa of the Maratha Empire. Through this treaty, the Marathas controlled large parts of India from their capital at Pune and Mughal rule was restricted only to Delhi (Mughals remained the nominal heads of Delhi). Marathas were now straining to expand their area of control towards the Northwest of India. Durrani sacked the Mughal capital and withdrew with the booty he coveted. To counter the Afghans, Peshwa Balaji Bajirao sent Raghunathrao. He succeeded in ousting Timur Shah and his court from India and brought northwest of India up to Peshawar under Maratha rule. Thus, upon his return to Kandahar in 1757, Durrani chose to return to India and confront the Maratha forces to regain northwestern part of the subcontinent.
In 1761, Durrani set out on his campaign to win back lost territories. The early skirmishes ended in victory for the Afghans against the Maratha garrisons in northwest India. By 1759, Durrani and his army had reached Lahore and were poised to confront the Marathas. By 1760, the Maratha groups had coalesced into a big enough army under the command of Sadashivrao Bhau. Once again, Panipat was the scene of a battle for control of northern India. The Third battle of Panipat was fought between Durrani's Afghan forces and the Maratha forces in January 1761, and resulted in a decisive Durrani victory. This brought Punjab till north of Sutlej river under Afghan control. Ahmad Shah Durrani vacated Delhi soon after the battle.
The historical area of what is modern day Xinjiang consisted of the distinct areas of the Tarim Basin and Dzungaria, and was originally populated by Indo-European Tocharian and Eastern Iranian Saka peoples who practiced the Buddhist religion. The area was subjected to Turkification and Islamification at the hands of invading Turkic Muslims. Both the Buddhist Turkic Uyghurs and Muslim Turkic Karluks participated in the Turkification and conquest of the native Buddhist Indo-European inhabitants of the Tarim Basin. The Turkic Muslims then proceeded to conquer the Turkic Buddhists in Islamic holy wars and converted them to Islam. The mixture between the invading Mongoloid Turkic peoples and the native Caucasian Indo-European inhabitants resulted in the modern day Turkic speaking hybrid Europoid-East Asian inhabitants of Xinjiang. The Turkification was carried out in the 9th and 10th centuries by two different Turkic Kingdoms, the Buddhist Uyghur Kingdom of Qocho and the Muslim Karluk Kara-Khanid Khanate. Halfway in the 20th century the Saka Iranic Buddhist Kingdom of Khotan came under attack by the Turkic Muslim Karakhanid ruler Musa, and in what proved to be a pivotal moment in the Turkification and Islamification of the Tarim Basin, the Karakhanid leader Yusuf Qadir Khan conquered Khotan around 1006.
Professor James A. Millward described the original Uyghurs as physically Mongoloid, giving as an example the images in Bezeklik at temple 9 of the Uyghur patrons, until they began to mix with the Tarim Basin's original eastern Iranian inhabitants. The modern Uyghurs are now a mixed hybrid of East Asian and Europoid populations.
The Turkic Muslim sedentary people of the Tarim Basin of Altishahr were originally ruled by the Chagatai Khanate while the nomadic Buddhist Dzungar Oirats in Dzungaria ruled over the Dzungar Khanate. The Naqshbandi Sufi Khojas, descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, had replaced the Chagatayid Khans as the ruling authority of the Tarim Basin in the early 17th century. There was a struggle between two factions of Khojas, the Afaqi (White Mountain) faction and the Ishaqi (Black Mountain) faction. The Ishaqi defeated the Afaqi, which resulted in the Afaqi Khoja inviting the 5th Dalai Lama, the leader of the Tibetan Buddhists, to intervene on his behalf in 1677. The 5th Dalai Lama then called upon his Dzungar Buddhist followers in the Zunghar Khanate to act on this invitation. The Dzungar Khanate then conquered the Tarim Basin in 1680, setting up the Afaqi Khoja as their puppet ruler.
Khoja Afaq asked the 5th Dalai Lama when he fled to Lhasa to help his Afaqi faction take control of the Tarim Basin (Kashgaria). The Dzungar leader Galdan was then asked by the Dalai Lama to restore Khoja Afaq as ruler of Kashgararia. Khoja Afaq collaborated with Galdan's Dzungars when the Dzungars conquered the Tarim Basin from 1678-1680 and set up the Afaqi Khojas as puppet client rulers. The Dalai Lama blessed Galdan's conquest of the Tarim Basin and Turfan Basin.
Since 1680 the Dzungars had ruled as suzerain masters over the Tarim, for 16 more years using the Chagatai as their puppet rulers. The Dzungars used a hostage arrangement to rule over the Tarim Basin, keeping as hostsges in Ili either the sons of the leaders like the Khojas and Khans or the leaders themselves. Although the Uighur's culture and religion was left alone, the Dzungars substantially exploited them economically . The Uighurs were forced with multiple taxes by the Dzungars which were burdensome and set by a determined amount, and which they did not even have the ability to pay. They included water conservancy tax, draught animal tax, fruit tax, poll tax, land tax, tress and grass tax, gold and silver tax, and trade tax. Annually the Dzungars extracted a tax of 67,000 tangas of silver from the Kashgar people in Galdan Tseren's reign, a five percent tax was imposed on foreign traders and a ten percent tax imposed on Muslim merchants, people had to pay a fruit tax if they owned orchards and merchants had to pay a copper and silver tax. Annually the Dzungars extracted 100,000 silver tangas in tax from Yarkand and slapped livestock, stain, commerce, and a gold tax on them. The Dzungars extracted 700 taels of gold, and also extracted cotton, copper, and cloth, from the six regions of Keriya, Kashgar, Khotan, Kucha, Yarkand, and Aksu as stated by Russian topographer Yakoff Filisoff. The Dzungars extracted over 50% of the wheat harvests of Muslims according to Qi-yi-shi (Chun Yuan), 30-40% of the wheat harvests of Muslims according to the Xiyu tuzhi, which labelled the tax as "plunder" of the Muslims. The Dzungars also extorted extra taxes on cotton, silver, gold, and traded goods from the Muslims besides making them pay the official tax. "Wine, meat, and women" and "a parting gift" were forcibly extracted from the Uighurs daily by the Dzungars who went to physically gather the taxes from the Uighur Muslims, and if they dissatisfied with what they received, they would rape women, and loot and steal property and livestock. Gold necklaces, diamonds, pearls, and precious stones from India were extracted from the Uighurs under Dāniyāl Khoja by Tsewang Rabtan when his daughter was getting married.
67,000 patman (each patman is 4 piculs and 5 pecks) of grain 48,000 silver ounces were forced to be paid yearly by Kashgar to the Dzungars and cash was also paid by the rest of the cities to the Dzungars. Trade, milling, and distilling taxes, corvée labor, saffron, cotton, and grain were also extracted by the Dzungars from the Tarim Basin. Every harvest season, women and food had to be provided to Dzungars when they came to extract the taxes from them.
When the Dzungars levied the traditional nomadic Alban poll tax upon the Muslims of Altishahr, the Muslims viewed it as the payment of jizyah (a tax traditionally taken from non-Muslims by Muslim conquerors).
The Qing defeat of the Dzungars went hand in hand with the anti-Dzungar resistance of the ordinary Uighurs, "many of them, unable to bear their misery, which was like living in a sea of fire, fled but were not able to find a place to settle peacefully." The Uighurs carried out "acts of resistance" like hiding the goods which were collected as taxes or violently resisting the Dzungar Oirat tax collectors, but these incidents were infrequent and widespread anti-Dzungar opposition failed to materialize. Many opponents of Dzungar rule like Uighurs and some dissident Dzungars escaped and defected to Qing China during 1737-1754 and provided the Qing with intelligence on the Dzungars and voiced their grievances. 'Abdullāh Tarkhān Beg and his Hami Uighurs defected and submitted to Qing China after the Qing inflicted a devastating defeat at Chao-mo-do on the Dzungar leader Galdan in September 1696. The Uighur leader Emin Khoja (Amīn Khoja) of Turfan revolted against the Dzungars in 1720 while the Dzungars under Tsewang Rabtan were being attacked by the Qing, and then he also defected and submitted to the Qing. The Uighurs in Kashgar under Yūsuf and his older brother Jahān Khoja of Yarkand revolted in 1754 against the Dzungars, but Jahān was taken prisoner by the Dzungars after he was betrayed by the Uch-Turfan Uighur Xi-bo-ke Khoja and Aksu Uighur Ayyūb Khoja. Kashgar and Yarkand were assaulted by 7,000 Khotan Uighurs under Sādiq, the son of Jahān Khoja. The Uighurs supported the 1755 Qing assault against the Dzungars in Ili, which occurred at the same time as the Uighur revolts against the Dzungars. Uighurs like Emin Khoja, 'Abdu'l Mu'min and Yūsuf Beg supported the Qing attack against Dawachi, the Dzungar Khan. The Uch-Turfan UighurnBeg Khojis (Huojisi) supported the Qing General Ban-di against in tricking Davachi and taking him prisoner. The Qing and Amin Khoja and his sons worked together to defeat the Dzungars under Amursana.
From the 17th century to the middle of the 18th century, between China proper and Transoxania, all the land was under the sway of the Dzungars. In Semirechye the Kyrgyz and Kazakahs were forcibly driven out by the Dzungars and the Kashgar Khanate was conquered. However, the Dzungar Empire was annihilated by Qing China from 1755-1758 in a formidable assault, ending the Central Asian states danger from the Dzungar menace. Uighur Muslims like Emin Khoja from Turfan revolted against their Dzungar Buddhist rulers and pledged alleigance to Qing China to deliver them from Dzungar Buddhist rule. The Qing crushed and annihilated the Dzungars in the Dzungar genocide.
The Dzungar Buddhists brought back the Aqtaghliq Afaqi Khoja Burhan-ud-din and his brother Khan Khoja and installed them as puppet rulers in Kashgar. During the Qing's war against the Dzungars, Burhan-ud-din and his brother Khan Khoja then pledged alleigance to Qing China in exchange for delivering them from Dzungar rule. However, after the Qing defeated the Dzungars, the Afaqi Khoja brothers Burhan-ud-din and Khan Khoja reneged on the deal with the Qing, declared independence and revolted against the Qing. The Qing and loyal Uighurs like Emin Khoja crushed the revolt and drove Burhan-ud-din and Khan Khoja to Badakhshan. The Qing armies reached far in Central Asia and came to the outskirts of Tashkent while the Kazakh rulers made their submissions as vassals to the Qing. The Afaqi brothers died in Badakhshan and the ruler Sultan Shah delivered their bodies to the Qing. Ahmad Shah Durrani accused Sultan Shah of having caused the Afaqi brothers to die.
Durrani dispatched troops to Kokand after rumours that the Qing dynasty planned to launch an expedition to Samarkand, but the alleged expedition never happened and Ahmad Shah subsequently withdrew his forces when his attempt at an anti-Qing alliance among Central Asian states failed. Durrani then sent envoys to Beijing to discuss the situation regarding the Afaqi Khojas.
During the Third Battle of Panipat between Marathas and Durrani, the Sikhs did not engage along with the Marathas and hence are considered neutral in the war. This was because of the flawed diplomacy on the part of Marathas in not recognizing their strategic potential. The exception was Ala Singh of Patiala, who sided with the Afghans and was actually being granted and coincidentally crowned the first Sikh Maharajah at the Sikh holy temple.
Durrani died on 16 October 1772 in Kandahar Province. He was buried in the city of Kandahar adjacent to the Shrine of the Cloak, where a large tomb was built. It has been described in the following way:
Under the shimmering turquoise dome that dominates the sand-blown city of Kandahar lies the body of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the young Kandahari warrior who in 1747 became the region's first Durrani king. The mausoleum is covered in deep blue and white tiles behind a small grove of trees, one of which is said to cure toothache, and is a place of pilgrimage. In front of it is a small mosque with a marble vault containing one of the holiest relics in the Islamic World, a kherqa, the Sacred Cloak of Prophet Mohammed that was given to Ahmad Shah by Mured Beg, the Emir of Bokhara. The Sacred Cloak is kept locked away, taken out only at times of great crisis but the mausoleum is open and there is a constant line of men leaving their sandals at the door and shuffling through to marvel at the surprisingly long marble tomb and touch the glass case containing Ahmad Shah's brass helmet. Before leaving they bend to kiss a length of pink velvet said to be from his robe. It bears the unmistakable scent of jasmine.
In his tomb his epitaph is written:
Durrani's victory over the Marathas influenced the history of the subcontinent and, in particular, British policy in the region. His refusal to continue his campaigns deeper into India prevented a clash with the East India Company and allowed them to continue to acquire power and influence after they took complete control of the former Mughal province of Bengal in 1793. However, fear of another Afghan invasion was to haunt British policy for almost half a century after the battle of Panipat. The acknowledgment of Abdali's military accomplishments is reflected in a British intelligence report on the Battle of Panipat, which referred to Ahmad Shah as the 'King of Kings'. This fear led in 1798 to a British envoy being sent to the Persian court in part to instigate the Persians in their claims on Herat to forestall an Afghan invasion of India that might have halted British East India company's expansion. Mountstuart Elphinstone wrote of Ahmad Shah:
His military courage and activity are spoken of with admiration, both by his own subjects and the nations with whom he was engaged, either in wars or alliances. He seems to have been naturally disposed to mildness and clemency and though it is impossible to acquire sovereign power and perhaps, in Asia, to maintain it, without crimes; yet the memory of no eastern prince is stained with fewer acts of cruelty and injustice.
His successors, beginning with his son Timur and ending with Shuja Shah Durrani, proved largely incapable of governing the last Afghan empire and faced with advancing enemies on all sides. Much of the territory conquered by Ahmad Shah fell to others by the end of the 19th century. They not only lost the outlying territories but also alienated some Pashtun tribes and those of other Durrani lineages. Until Dost Mohammad Khan's ascendancy in 1826, chaos reigned in Afghanistan, which effectively ceased to exist as a single entity, disintegrating into a fragmented collection of small countries or units. This policy ensured that he did not continue on the path of other conquerors like Babur or Muhammad of Ghor and make India the base for his empire.
In Pakistan, a short-range ballistic missile Abdali-I, is named in the honour of Ahmed Shah Abdali.
Durrani wrote a collection of odes in his native Pashto language. He was also the author of several poems in Persian. The most famous Pashto poem he wrote was Love of a Nation:
ستا د عشق له مينی ډک شول ځيګرونه
Sta de ishq de weeno daq sho zegaronah
ستا په لاره کـــې بايلــــــــي ځلمي سرونه
Sta puh meena ke byley zalmey saronah
تاته راشمــــه زړګــــی زمــــا فـــارغ شي
Ta tuh reshema zergai ze mai farigh shey
بې له تا مــــې انديښنې د زړه مارونه
Bey ley ta mai andekhney de zlar maronah
که هــــر څه مې د دنيا ملکونه ډير شي
Ke har sa mi de dunia molkona der shi
زما به هير نه شي دا ستا ښکلي باغونه
ze ma ba heera na shi da sta shekeli baghona
I will not forget it your beautiful gardens
د ډيلـــي تخت هيرومه چې را ياد کړم
De Delhi takht hayrawoona chey rayad kum
زما د ښکلي پښتونخوا د غرو سرونه
Ze mah de khekely or shekele Pakhtunkhwa de ghru saronah
Pakhtunkhwa means "Site of Pakhtuns" here: Land of Pakhtuns. In the time of Ahmad Shah Abdali (Durrani) Afghan land does not exist. From 1747 to 1845 existed a dynasty of the Durrani and a Land of Great Khorasan and dependent areas above the Oxus. Durrani was born in Herat. His relatives from the father's side came from Multan. Afghan land (Persian Afghanistan) was not developed until the middle of the 19th century. In a map of 1845, for the first time, the present territory of Pashtunkwa was written as Afghanistan. Afghan and Pathan are the Perso-Arabic and Indian nicknames of Pashtun or Pakhtun. A map of Afghanistan is only after the Iranian-British 15-Point- Treaty of 1857 in Paris conceived c. 1868. The country inside was called Mamalik i Iran ممالک ايران (countries of Iran), which was still called Persia in other European countries.
During Nader Shah's invasion of India in 1739, Abdali also accompanied him and stayed some days in the Red Fort of Delhi. When he was standing "outside the Jali gate near Diwan-i-Am", Asaf Jah I saw him. He was "an expert in physiognomy" and predicted that Abdali was "destined to become a king". When Nader Shah came to know about it, he "purportedly clipped" his ears with his dagger and made the remark "When you become a king, this will remind you of me". According to other sources, Nader Shah did not believe in it and asked him to be kind to his descendants "on the attaintment of royalty".