Spoiler Alert, click show to read:
I am writing this article to cover an often overlooked period of Afghanistan's history and which I feel is relevant to today,as Abu Fazl said:
Intelligent men of the past have considered Kabul and Qandahar as the twin gates of Hindustan, one (Qandahar) for the passage to Iran, and the other for that of Turan.By guarding these two places, Hindustan obtains peace from the raider, and global traffic by these two routes prosper.
The control of Afghanistan has always been vital for either the security of India or conquering it, and for its links to Turan (Central Asia) and Iran.
Originally Posted by Abu Fazl
The country of Kabul is surrounded on all sides by lofty mountains, so that the sudden invasion of an enemy is attended with extreme difficulty.The Hindu Kush separates Kabul from Badakhshan and Balkh and seven routes are employed by the people of Turan in their marches to and fro.Three are by the Panjshir valley, the highest of wish is over the Khawak Pass, below this is Tul, and the next lower in succession,Bazarak.The best of these is Tul, but it is somewhat long as its name implies.The most direct is over the heights called Haft Bachah.From Anderab two roads unite at the foot of the main pass and debouch on Pawan by the Haft Bachah.This is extremely arduous.Three other roads lead by Poran up the Ghorband valley.The nearest route is by the pass of Yangi-Yuli (the new road) which leads down to Waliyan and Kinjan; another is Qipchak Pass, Also somewhat easy to traverse, and the third is the Shibertu. In the summer when the rivers rise, it is by this pass that they descend by the way of Bamian and Talikan, but in the winter the Abdorah route is chosen, for at this season, all other routes but this are closed
In the Mughal period,the suba (province) of Kabul bordered Uzbek lands to the North, who controlled Balkh,the Uzbeks held sway over the lands of Mawaranahr (Transoxania),lands which the Mughals consider to be their birthright as heirs of Timur:
Zahiruddin Muhammed Babur had been expelled from Samarkand by Muhammed Shayban Khan and sought a new kingdom, he saw Kabul as a suitable base for further conquests.Thus Kabul became his capital after taking advantage of the turmoil there to capture it.Babur's description of Kabul:
Originally Posted by Babur
The province of Kabul is in the fourth clime in the middle of the civilised region.To the east are the Laghman region and Peshawar, in which highlands are Karnu and Ghor.As of this date those mountains are the strongholds of the Hazara and Negudari
It was from here that he would launch a series of raids into India which finally culminate in his victory at Panipat:
However Kabul remained his most loved city,since he said this of his lands east of the Khyber Pass,which he called Hindustan, this constituted the Indo-Gangetic plain which covers much of Pakistan and North India:
Originally Posted by Babur
The cities and provinces of Hindustan are all unpleasant. All cities, all locales are alike. The gardens have no walls, and most places are flat as boards
Later under his successor, Humayun, it would become his base yet again when he returned from exile in Iran with troops to reconquer his empire from the Suri Pathans,he would not live long to see the benefits of his reconquest.
But in Akbar's reign,Kabul was once again a suba as he expanded Mughal power northwards and westwards in a series of campaigns in the late 16th Century.
His son,Jahangir hoped to use the turmoil in the Uzbek empire to achieve the Timurid dream of reconquering Samarkand and Bukhara,thus he didn't seek friendly diplomatic terms with the Uzbeks, however with the increasing power of Shah Abbas I of Safavid Iran, he changed his mind and sought to cultivate good relations with them but his overtures were not reciprocated as their leader, Imam Quli lost interest in the alliance.In 1628. Kabul faced a raid by Nazr Muhammed,the Uzbek governor of Balkh and Badakhshan, in light of the Mughal loss of Qandahar to Shah Abbas' forces,at this time Jahangir faced a rebellion from his son, Shah Jahan, back in India so he was unable to reinforce his army in Kabul.Nazr had hoped to subvert the Hindu Kush and share his spoils with the Persians,however it was repelled.
In Shah Jahan's reign,Kabul was used as a based by Aurangzeb to launch an attempted invasion of Balkh and Badakhshan,I will touch upon this in the next section.
Under Aurangzeb,there was a revolt by the Yusufzai tribe near Peshawar.Their leader was Muhammad Shah,who was able to rally support from the local Pathans (Pashtuns).The governor of Attock,Kamil Khan set out and fought with Muhammed Shah,he was able to defeat him and recover the imperial outposts.Shamshir Khan crossed the river Nilab and came towards Attock and entered the enemy's territory on the otherside of the river opposite Yusufzai lands.The rebels fled to the hills and waited for an opportunity, Muhammed Amin Khan Mir Bakhshi was despatched from court with 9,000 troops in all to crush this uprising,he harried and desolated their homes as far as possible,Aurangzeb ordered him to leave Shamshir Khan there and come to Lahore.
After Aurangzeb's death, the Mughal Empire began to weaken rapidly and in 1738, Nadir Shah Afshar,the ruler of Iran, was able to conquer Kabul and use it as a base to invade India,he later went to confront the Mughals at Karnal.From this point, never again would the Mughals control Kabul.
Suba Balkh and Suba Badakhshan (1646-7)
In the reign of Shah Jahan, in 1646, Shah Jahan's son Murad Bakhsh was sent north to conquer Balkh and Badakhshan,with the intent of making the Oxus River,the northernmost frontier of the Mughal empire.A description of the Oxus:
The Oxus, to the North of Balkh, is well known, and the fords and passages of that river have been reckoned up with fair accuracy.From time immemorial every horde of Skythic origin, Nagas,Sakas or Jatas must have passed these fords from the hills and valleys of the Central Asian divide on the way to India.The Oxus fords have seen men in millions making south for the valley of Badakhshan and Golden Gates of Central Asiatic ideal which lay yet farther south beyond the grim line of the Hindu Kush
An additional motive for this invasion was to punish Nazr Muhammad for his earlier raids in the 1620s,as well as restore law and order in the regional and suppress the Almans who have committed numerous attrocities.There was also a civil war between Nazr Muhammad and Abd Al-Aziz at this time.
The Mughal army advanced northwards and was able to take Qunduz and Balkh by mid-July, Murad Bakhsh had hoped to receive the submission of Nazr Muhammed in Balkh but this was not possible after Nazr fled.Murad was furious at this and dispatched Asalat Khan in hot pursuit,who was able to inflict a defeat on Uzbek forces near Shibarghan, however Nasr Muhammed was able to flee to Isfahan in Safavid Iran.Nevertheless It was a remarkable feat for an army of 60,000 men to conquer Balkh,Andkhud, Maimana, Shibarghan and Termez in just 120 days thanks to Mughal speed and logistics.
However Murad soon realised that Balkh and Badakhshan was a financial drain on the Mughal treasury,the revenue was just a tenth of that of Lahore and Delhi during Akbar's reign,this was a huge disappointment.Meanwhile the Uzbeks retained the iniative by launching raids along the Oxus frontier which aimed at destroying their supply lines and the productive countryside.If things couldn't get any worse, Nazr Muhammed returned from Iran to besiege Maimana.
In response to this, Shah Jahan dispatched Aurangzeb to confront the Uzbeks, this time round they proved to be more adept at using their horse-archers to counter-balance the firearms and light cannons of the Mughal army.In the end Shah Jahan finally gave into pressure from the epidemics,famines,Uzbek raids and the threat of a new winter, to finally order Aurangzeb to withdraw from Balkh and Badakhshan, and cede them to Nazr Muhammed.The campaign had cost the Mughals at least 20 million rupees,it is ironic that the now heavily Indianised Mughal army was overcome by same Central Asian strategy which had been used by Babur so effectively at the beginning of his career.
Qandahar had first been conquered by Babur in the 1520s, he held on it despite an attempted siege by Muhammed Shaybani Khan of the Uzbeks,where he was unable to take the citadel so he withdrew.After Babur's death, Humayun took over the rule of the Mughal empire but proved to be incompetent and lost all of Babur's hard won conquests in Hindustan to Sher Shah Suri.Humayun fled to Qazwin in the Safavid empire and begged Shah Tahmasp to grant him an army to reconquer Hindustan, which was granted on the condition that he cede Qandahar to the Safavids.
Humayun's successor, the greatest of the Mughals, Akbar, was able to regain Qandahar from the Safavids thanks to instability in Iran, thus the "gate" between Iran and Hindustan was securely in Mughal hands.However in Jahangir's reign,Shah Abbas I the greatest ruler of the Safavid empire was able to regain Qandahar, he put his annexation politely to Jahangir:
Originally Posted by Shah Abbas the Great
You will be aware that after the death of the Nawab Shah Jannat-Makan (Shah Tahmasp) great misfortunes befel Persia.Many territories which belonged to our saintly family passed out of possession, but when this suppliant at the throne of Grace became sovereign, he, by God's help, and the excellent measures of friends, recovered the hereditary lands which were in the possession of enemies. As Qandahar was held by agents of your lofty family, I regarded you as myself, and did not make any objection. From feelings of unity and brotherhood we waited, thinking that you would, after the manner of your ancestors who are in Paradise, voluntarily take the matter into your consideration.
This gave the Uzbeks confidence to raid Kabul as mentioned earlier, and left the Mughals vulnerable.Later after regaining it for a short period, Jahangir's successor, Shah Jahan lost it again because of a Kurdish turncoat, Ali Mardan Khan who handed over Qandahar to the Safavids.In reaction to this treachery, Shah Jahan imposed "restraint to this merchants from trading in Persia".In 1652,Aurangzeb tried in vain to reconquer Qandahar but from then onwards, Qandahar would remain in Safavid hands,Aurangzeb was more focused on conquering the Deccan anyway.
Thus Afghanistan was to remain divided between the Iranians in Herat,Farah and Qandahar in the West, the Uzbeks in Balkh and Badakhshan and finally the Mughals in Kabul,Ghazni and Gardez