This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
28 HISTORY •• Invaders From the Steppes

lonelyplanet.com

‘With one stroke a world which billowed with fertility was laid desolate, and the regions thereof

became a desert.’

JUVAINI, THE HISTORY OF CONQUERING THE WORLD, 1259

INVADERS FROM THE STEPPES

As the Ghorids settled into what they thought would be a long and prosperous rule, they had no way of knowing that the greatest storm in Afghan history was about to break over them. Thunderheads were gathering in far Mongolia, in the shape of the armies of Genghis Khan. A brilliant tactician and proponent of total war, Genghis Khan swept through central Asia in 1219 after his emmissaries were killed by unwise rulers far to the north of Afghanistan. As one historian put it, Genghis was ‘the atom bomb of his day’. Having levelled Samarkand, Bukhara and Merv, the Mongols tore into Afghanistan. Balkh and Herat were dispatched without mercy, leaving little more than barking dogs as wit- nesses. The south, with its green gardens, orchards and canals was utterly destroyed, a disaster that it arguably has yet to recover from. In Bamiyan, the fate of Shahr-e Gholghola (the ‘City of Screams’) continues to burn in the folk memory of the locals. The Mongols didn’t gallop into the sunset, but incorporated the ruins into their empire. Genghis’ son Chagatai ruled Afghanistan and most of central Asia. But although the Chagatai dynasty soon converted to Islam, it was never strong. Within decades of Genghis Khan’s death the Turkic peoples of the northern steppe began to reassert themselves. Their vehicle was Timur (‘the Lame’, or Tamerlane), an Uzbek from near Samarkand. As a tyrant and military leader, Timur was the equal of Genghis (from whom he claimed ancestry), but he was also a man of the arts and loved building cities as much as destroying them and slaughter- ing their inhabitants. In the 1390s he went on a rampage that landed him an empire from Syria to north India. The great Timurid cities were richly endowed by captured artisans and painters. Timur died in 1405 and was succeeded by his son Shah Rukh, who

When Timur captured Andkhoi he sought omens from the local saint, who threw a sheep’s breastbone at the conqueror – inspiring Timur to conquer Herat and Khorasan, the breastbone of the known world.

moved the empire’s capital from Samarkand to Herat, sparking one of Afghanistan’s greatest cultural flowerings. Shah Rukh and his formid- able wife Gowhar Shad were tremendous patrons of the arts. His court produced poetry that is still widely read in the Persian world, while the painted books from Herat would go on to form the bedrock for both the Persian and Indian style of miniatures. Scientists and philosophers were as highly regarded. The Timurid Renaissance lasted just a century, until a surfeit of wine

and poetry turned it flabby and decadent. Warring Uzbek tribes nibbled at its edges until they were strong enough to bite off Samarkand and (in 1507) Herat itself. To the west, the Safavid shahs of Persia were also beginning to covet Afghan territories. At the start of the 16th century, the balance of power was on a knife-edge.

THE AFGHAN KINGDOMS

The man to resurrect Afghanistan was Zahiruddin Babur, a teenage claimant to the Samarkand throne from the Ferghana Valley. Despite repeated attempts to capture and hold his birthright, the Uzbek khan Shaybani kept beating him back until he gave up and looked for a new kingdom to the south. Kabul fit the bill perfectly, and in 1504 its inhabit- ants welcomed him with open arms for evicting its Kandahari warlord ruler. He visited his Timurid relations in Herat months before it fell to

1194

Ghorid sultan Ghiyassudin erects the Minaret of Jam

1220

Genghis Khan invades and devastates Afghanistan

lonelyplanet.com

HISTORY •• Shah Shuja, Dost Mohammed & the British 29

the hated Uzbeks, and captured Kandahar in a thrice. In that city he left a monument to his achievements – the Forty Steps (Chihil Zina) – directly above the edicts carved by Ashoka 18 centuries before. On Shaybani’s death Babur made one last failed attempt to take Sa- markand, before returning to consolidate his Afghan kingdom, laying out palaces and gardens in Kabul, and always writing his memoirs, The Baburnama. In 1525 he followed the well-trodden path of the Ghaz- anavids, Ghorids and Timur and invaded India. He settled in Delhi and Agra, only returning to Kabul in death, but gave birth to the Mughal empire that held sway in India until the arrival of the British. Kabul was a favourite of Babur’s son Humayun, but he held little of his father’s gift for politics. Over the next 200 years, the Mughal sphere of Afghanistan was squeezed back until it comprised little more than Kabul and Kandahar. The Safavids pushed far past Herat and into the south, while the Uzbeks continued to hold sway north of the Hindu Kush. In the early 1700s, the Safavid empire had begun its slow decline, but still managed to capture and hold Kandahar. In 1709 the Ghilzai Pashtun mayor of Kandahar, Mir Wais Khotak sparked a revolt and defeated a Persian army sent to punish him. Not only that, his son Mahmoud marched on the Safavid capital Esfahan and sacked it before the Persians could regain their senses. In retaliation, the Persian leader Nadir Shah tried to play off the Pashtun tribes against each other, supporting the Abdalis against the Ghilzais – a tactic that would be repeated in later centuries, with similar unforseen consequences. Nadir Shah appointed the Abdali Ahmad Khan as commander of his Afghan forces and the royal treasury. The Abdalis were proven fighters, smashing Ghilzai power in Kanda- har, capturing Kabul and pushing far enough into India to thump the Mughals and loot the fabled Peacock Throne and Koh-i Noor Diamond. But just as Ahmad Khan thought the status quo was restored, Nadir Shah was assassinated. Khan quickly realised the opportunity before him. Rich with the Persian treasury, he drew together the Abdalis and made his bid for power. A jirga (council) named him Ahmad Shah, Dur-i Durran (‘Pearl of Pearls’) and crowned him with a garland of wheat sheafs. The Abdalis were renamed the Durrani in his honour. From his new capital at Kandahar, Ahmad Shah Durrani set about laying the borders now recognisable as modern Afghanistan. Herat, Balkh and Badakhshan all fell under his sway in just a few years, and the kingdom extended as far as Srinagar, Delhi and Mashhad. He died of cancer in 1772, and is still remembered as Ahmad Shah ‘Baba’, the Father of Afghanistan.

SHAH SHUJA, DOST MOHAMMED & THE BRITISH

Inevitably Ahmad Shah Durrani’s empire started to contract as soon as he was laid to rest. His son Timur Shah moved the capital to Kabul in 1776, but pretty soon the kingdom descended into fights for succession and tribal revolts. Herat again resurrected itself as an independent city-state and Bukhara resumed its influence over the northern cities. Kabul became a cauldron of rivalries between the Barakzai and Sadozai Durranis, compet- ing for the throne. Of these, history primarily remembers the cruel and

15th century

Timurid empire ruled from Herat

1504

Babur captures Kabul, sowing the first seeds of the Mughal Empire

‘Whatever countries I conquer in the world, I would never forget your beautiful gardens. When I remember the summits of your beautiful mountains, I forget the greatness of

the Delhi throne.’

AHMAD SHAH DURRANI Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76  |  Page 77  |  Page 78  |  Page 79  |  Page 80  |  Page 81  |  Page 82  |  Page 83  |  Page 84  |  Page 85  |  Page 86  |  Page 87  |  Page 88  |  Page 89  |  Page 90  |  Page 91  |  Page 92  |  Page 93  |  Page 94  |  Page 95  |  Page 96  |  Page 97  |  Page 98  |  Page 99  |  Page 100  |  Page 101  |  Page 102  |  Page 103  |  Page 104  |  Page 105  |  Page 106  |  Page 107  |  Page 108  |  Page 109  |  Page 110  |  Page 111  |  Page 112  |  Page 113  |  Page 114  |  Page 115  |  Page 116  |  Page 117  |  Page 118  |  Page 119  |  Page 120  |  Page 121  |  Page 122  |  Page 123
Produced with Yudu - www.yudu.com