Invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali
Compiled by: Haroon Mohsini

After the assassination of Nadir in 1747, one of his officers named Ahmad Shah, an Afghan chief of the Abdali clan, rose to power and succeeded in establishing himself as the independent ruler of Afghanistan. He styled himself Durr-i-Durran, "the pearl of the age", and his clan was henceforth known as the Durrani. Ahmad Shah Abdali, while accompanying Nadir to India, had seen with his own eyes "the weakness of the Empire, the imbecility of the Emperor, the inattentiveness of the ministers, the spirit of independence which had crept among the grandees". So after establishing his power at home he led several expeditions into India from AD 1748 till AD 1767. These were something more than mere predatory raids. They indicated the revival of the Afghans, outside and within India, making a fresh bid for supremacy on the ruins of the Mughul Empire. As a matter of fact, the Afghan bid for supremacy was an important factor in the history of India during a considerable part of the eighteenth century. Ahmad Shah Abdali must have entertained the desire of establishing political authority over at least a part of India, though there were other motives, as Elphinstone points out, which led him to undertake these expeditions. He sought to consolidate his authority at home by increasing his reputation through successful foreign adventures, and he also hoped to utilize the booty derived from his Indian campaigns in defraying the expenses of his army and in showering favours and rewards on the Afghan chiefs.

After having conquered Qandahar, Kabul, and Peshawar, Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India for the first time, in Jan. 1748, with 12,000 veteran troops. But he was defeated at the battle of Manpur by Ahmad Shah, the Mughul heir-apparent, and Mir Mannu, son of the deceased Wazir Qamar-ud-din, and was put to flight. Mir Mannu was appointed governor of the Punjab. But before he could settle down, Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded Punjab for the second time in AD 1750 and conquered it after defeating him. Unsupported by the Delhi court, the Punjab governor found all resistance futile and admitted to the invader.

The Abdali invaded India for the third time in Dec. 1751, when he again defeated Mir mannu, conquered Kashmir, and forced the Mughul Emperor, Ahmad Shah, to cede to him the country as far east as Sirhind. Thus the Mughul Empire was further reduced in extent. Mir Mannu was now left as the Abdali governor in Lahore. He promised to send to the victor the surplus revenue of the Punjab and not to transact important matters without final orders from him. But the Abdali led another expedition in the time of Emperor 'Alamgir II (1754-1759). After the death of Mir Mannu in Nov., 11753, and that of his infant son and successor in May 1754, the province of Punjab fell into disorder and anarchy due largely to the willfulness and caprice of the regent-mother, Mughlani Begam. In response to an appeal from her for help, Imad-ul-mulk, the all powerful Wazir at Delhi, marched to the Punjab, which he himself coveted, in 1756, brought it under his authority, and appointed Mir Mun'im, "the leading nobleman of Lahore", governor of the province. Enraged at this, Ahmad Abdali invaded India for the fourth time in Nov. 1756, with greater determination, and arrived before Delhi on 23rd Jan. 1757. The imperial city was "plundered and its unhappy people again subjected to pillage". Imad-ul-mulk surrendered and was pardoned by the invader, who obtained from the Mughul Emperor the formal cession of the Punjab, Kashmir, Sind, and the Sirhind district. After plundering the Jat country, south of Delhi, the Abdali retired from India in April, 1757, with immense booty and many captives, leaving his son, Timur Shah, as his viceroy at Lahore with Jahan Khan, the able Afghan general, as the latter's Wazir.

The administration of Timur Shah for one year, from May 1757 to April 1758, was a period of utter lawlessness and disorder. The Sikh community, infuriated by the maltreatment of one of its leaders, rose in rebellion on all sides. Adina Beg Khan, governor of the Julundur Doab, revolting against the Afghans, called in the marathas to help him. A large army of the Marathas under the command of Raghunath Rao invaded the Punjab in April 1758, occupied Lahore and expelled the Afghans. They retired from the Punjab leaving Adina Beg Khan as their governor there. But the occupation of Lahore by the Marathas did not last for more than six months. To avenge their expulsion of Timur Shah, Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India for the fifth time in Oct. 1759, and finally conquered Punjab. A more severe collision of the Afghans with the Marathas was inevitable, because both had been, more or less, contending for political supremacy in Hindustan. This took place on the 14th Jan. 1761, in the decisive battle of Panipat. The strength of the Afghan army was 60,000, half of which were the Abdali's own subjects (23,000 horse and 7,000 foot) and the other half his Indian allies (7,000 horse and 23,000 foot). The Maratha army consisted of 45,000 soldiers in cavalry and infantry. Besides having superior horses, the Abdali had artillery more efficient and mobile than that of the Marathas, and his officers were clad in armour, which the Marathas hardly wore. In respect of their manner of campaigning, marching and discipline, the Afghan army was superior to the Maratha host. "The strict enforcement of order in camp and battlefield, the rigid punishment of the least disobedience in any subordinate, the control of every officer's movements according to the plan of the supreme chief, the proper gradation of officers forming an unbroken chain between the genralissmo and the common soldier, the regular transmission of his orders by an efficient staff organization, and above all the fine control of the troops - which distinguished Ahmad Shah's army-were unapproached by any other Asiatic force of that age. Above all, there was the transcendent genius for war and diplomacy and the towering personality of the master - who had risen like Nadir from nothing and attained to almost the same preeminence of fortune and invincibility in war. The final result was the disastrous defeat of the Maratha army and as a consequence the Marathas lost 50,000 horses, 200,000 draught cattle, some thousands of camels, 500 elephants, besides cash and jewelry. The battle of Panipat produced disastrous consequences for the Marathas and seriously deflected the course of Maratha imperialism. Besides immense losses in men and money, the moral effect of the defeat at Panipat was even greater. After this victory, Ahmad Shah Abdali departed from India towards the close of AD 1762. He ordered the Indian chiefs to recognize Shah 'Alam II as Emperor. Naji-ud-daulah and Munir-ud-daulah agreed to pay to the Abdali, on behalf of the Indian Government, an annual tribute of forty lacs (100,000).

The Sikhs, who had revived by this time, slew Khwaja abid, the Durrani governor of Lahore, and occupied the city. This brought back the Abdali to Lahore in March 1764. He had, however, to return to his own country, after a fortnight's stay at Lahore, owing to the outbreak of a civil war there and a mutiny among his troops. Ahmad Shah Abdali invaded India again in 1767. He could not succeed ineffectively thwarting the Sikhs and had to retreat soon "with a consciousness of his ultimate failure", owing to some internal troubles, chiefly the mutiny of his troops clamoring for pay which they had not received regularly. No sooner had he turned back than the Sikhs reoccupied Lahore and the entire open country. Ahmad Shah Abdali "retained hold of Peshawar and the country west of Attock, while he abandoned the Manjha districts and central Punjab including Lahore to the Sikhs; but the Sind-Sagar and Jech Doab in the western Punjab remained a debatable land which finally came into their possession in the days of his unworthy successors".

Though Ahmad Shah Abdali had to return hurriedly from India, his invasions affected the history of India in several ways. Firstly, it accelerated the dismemberment of the tottering Moghul Empire. Secondly, it offered a serious check to the rapidly spreading Maratha imperialism. Thirdly, it indirectly helped the rise of the Sikh power. "His career in India," observes a modern writer, " is very intimately a part of the Sikh struggle for independence." Lastly, the menace of Afghan invasion kept the English East India Company in great anxiety, both during the lifetime of Ahmad Shah Abdali and for some time after his death.

Compiled by: Haroon Mohsini, University of Toronto, Canada.

Main Source: Majumdar, Raychaudhuri, Datta, An Advanced History of India,
(Delhi: Mcmillan India Limited; fourth edition reprinted 1998)

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