Ahmad Shah Durrani had made his mark.
Every tribesman in Afghanistan recognised him as King.
In Delhi, the Grand Mughal cowered behind his peacock thrown, in fear of what the Afghan warlord would do next.
But all was not well for the Pearl of Pearls, by vanquishing the Mughals, he had ripped the scab off a wound that had been festering for generations.
The people of India: Sikhs, Marathi's and Jat's had tolerated subjugation for a millennia, but bowing to a foreign Afghan king - don't be ridiculous.
An enormous battle was coming, and neither side would be taking prisoners...
The climactic end to the life of Ahmad Shah Durrani and The Last Afghan Empire.
Hello my friends, this is the Anthology of Heroes podcast and you've tuned into the
story of Ahmad Shah Durrani, the father of Afghanistan.
If perhaps you think, that sounds a bit familiar and you're a long time listener, well you're
This is indeed a re-recording of an original episode with a few tweaks.
I decided to re-record it because the earlier episode was a victim of a crappy microphone
and equally crappy audio editing, common pitfalls for the early days of a podcast.
So if you've heard that already, I forgive you for tuning out.
With that said and done, in part one of the episode we covered the fall of Nader Shah,
a brilliant Persian commander who Ahmad Shah Durrani had sworn allegiance to.
We covered the first few rebellions and plots against Ahmad Shah's new Afghan empire.
We walked through a few of his first campaigns, including those against the grandson of old
Nader Shah and those against the decaying Mughal empire.
We left our friend Ahmad Shah just after his total sacking of the Mughal capital.
Ahmad Shah and his army are marching out of Delhi with all the goodies they can carry.
Whatever was left of the Mughal empire would have been easy for Ahmad Shah to annex.
So leaving it as it was was very much his own decision.
It would have been too difficult to hold and govern it from Afghanistan.
He would have had to move his capital, sidelining his own Afghan people and likely inciting
Plus, by keeping the Mughal power structure and tying his family to it, Ahmad Shah Durrani
was legitimizing his own rule by proxy, a shrewd political move which gives insight
that he was thinking long term at this stage.
Reaching the sacking unfold from the south were the Maraitis and the Jats, though they
knew the Mughal empire was weak, the destruction of Delhi had opened their eyes to just how
weak they were, and they quickly cranked up the pressure, holding back taxes and ignoring
the Mughal emperor entirely.
As a reminder, these guys were the two most vocal Indian minorities jostling for independence.
Both these groups spanned the western part of India, the Jats more northern and the Maraitis
The Grand Mughal, who was now subjugated to the Durranis, requested their aid in suppressing
these two groups.
And the suppression was brutal and thorough, reminiscent of the types of Genghis Khan 500
I mean, we're talking limbs severed for bounty payments, right?
Women, children, the elderly, no one was spared.
The countryside was just completely devastated.
The Jats in particular copped it especially hard as their ruler refused continually to
accept subjugation of any kind.
Two holy places were sought out deliberately, statues and paintings of their gods were hacked
to pieces and kicked around in the street.
Cows which are considered sacred in Hinduism were decapitated and strewn around the corpses
of headless Hindu bodies.
Eventually this trail of carnage takes the Afghans to the small town of Gokul, a fairly
ordinary town except for the belief that Krishna, one of the main gods of Hinduism, spent his
When the Durrani army arrived, they found at the gate 4,000 monks, completely naked
and covered in ash, blocking the way.
Thinking they could make mincemeat out of these holy men, the army attacked that was
met with brutal and stubborn resistance.
The monks fighting back was everything they had, refusing to let the invaders desecrate
Eventually the army suffered such huge losses that they actually just left.
I mean, the town was no strategic value to them anyway.
After the Marathi cities were pillaged, the army headed south to the region controlled
by the Jats.
Now we need to introduce a minor character here.
This guy's name was Suraj Mal and he was the closest thing the Jats had to a leader.
He was a real life hero to his people and many of his contemporaries referred to him
as the Jat Odysseus, Odysseus being the mythical Greek king who fought for independence.
And the reputation was well deserved.
Even before the Durrani army was on the scene, Suraj's political acumen had pried more
and more privileges from the ailing Mughal state.
In the past, he had sacked Delhi, hell, he'd even pulled the silver doors off the Taj Mahal
and dragged them home.
But overall, he was a man of foresight and single-mindedness.
He was a poet, a scholar, and a military reformer, but his main goal was the full independence
of his people and this was never far from his mind.
With his portly body, brightly colored clothing, and insane mutton chop mustaches, there was
no missing Suraj Mal.
Ahmad Shah got his first taste of real resistance on the Indian subcontinent when he besieged
Suraj's capital, which had only recently been buffed up with new walls, new guns, and
new grain stores.
Responding to a request to surrender, Suraj sent back this dramatic response, quote, if
by divine decree, which is not known to anyone, the affair, that is the battle, takes a different
turn, what will it lead to?
All the power and preponderance brought about Your Majesty's gallant soldiers during a period
of 11 years will vanish in a moment.
As for myself, I have already crossed 50 of the stages of life and do not know anything
about the remaining.
There shall be no greater blessing than that I should drink the draft of martyrdom, end
Ahmad Shah Durrani, his army worn out from constant campaigning and stricken with a cholera
epidemic reluctantly agreed and left for Afghanistan.
It was starting to become a bit clearer to the Afghan why the Mughal empire had been
in such a state of decay.
Trying to keep these ethnic groups down was no picnic.
Heading home, the Afghan army were again harried by Sikh ambushes continually making off with
much of the loot of the campaign.
Furious, Prince Timur, that is the son of Ahmad Shah, who was lately taking a more active
role in the management of the empire, took a detachment of the main force and pillaged
the Sikh countryside in a similar manner to the previous campaigns against the Marathis
and the Jats.
Ahmad Shah, the Sikh capital, was razed to the ground, his beautiful golden temple sacked,
and the sacred pools emptied and filled with decapitated cows and sprinkled with cow blood.
The attack was designed to shock and cow the Sikhs, but they'd been through worse than
this in the past, and this just strengthened their resolve.
Baba Deep Singh, a 75-year-old Sikh devotee, had been in a scholarly retreat.
He heard about the devastation of Amritsar, and out of guilt he was not there.
He vowed to avenge the fallen, and so this guy, 75 years old, roused 500 Sikh warriors
and began the march to Amritsar, vowing, may my head fall at Daba Sahib, that's the largest
temple at Amritsar.
Predictably, the squad of Sikhs met fierce resistance from the occupying Afghans, but
Baba Deep Singh, swinging around a 15-kilogram sword, fought on.
Receiving a mortal neck wound and near death, he was reminded by a fellow Sikh of his vow
to reach the temple, and so on he fought, stemming a wound with his left hand and cleaving
a path through the men with his right.
According to a Sikh legend, his head was actually cleaved off completely, but he was so dedicated
to his vows he just carried his head in his left hand and kept swinging with his right
until he reached the temple.
Whatever the case, the site of his martyrdom is visited regularly by Sikhs to this day.
On our website you can see a picture of him fighting on, head held in his own hand, and
the massive sword that he carried with him.
We've also got a picture of Amritsar and its famous sacred pools.
After desecrating the holy sites, the Durranis marched home thinking the Sikhs had now been
But, like we said before, the Sikhs had not survived under Mughal oppression only to be
beaten so easily.
The militant side of the Sikh religion had originally begun as a reaction to Mughal persecution.
By destroying their holy city, Amritsar Durrani had made an enemy for life.
Now there was no chance of reconciliation.
No sooner had the invading army left than the temples were rebuilt, the sacred pools
cleaned and the army gathered.
The pattern would continue over and over throughout the rule of Amritsar Durrani.
The Sikhs knew the Afghans eventually had to leave.
They just needed to resist them, avoid a pitch battle and wait them out.
The harshness of Jahan Khan, that's the leading commander of the Durrani forces, seems
to have had some influence on Amritsar Durrani's son Tammur.
We haven't talked too much about the role of Tammur simply because I couldn't find
all that much about him.
But it's clear he was the favoured son of the numerous children Amritsar had fathered,
and had been groomed for the throne since a pretty young age.
To give some real experience, Amritsar had put him in charge of Lahore.
If you'll remember, this was the place that was prone to rebellion, and Abed knew his
son would have a fairly rough time, but hey, that's how you get experience, right?
The Sikhs agitated again and again, raiding, stealing, ambushing, generally making the
region impossible to administer and tax.
Tearing his hair out, Prince Tammur called for a jihad against the Sikhs.
But this backfires as the indiscriminate slaughter horrifies the countryside and drives the Marathis
into forming a coalition with the Sikhs.
Together the two persecuted ethnic groups start to push back the forces of Prince Tammur.
The Durrani forces held the advantage in a pitched battle, but the coalition held the
advantages for light skirmishes.
When Afghan prisoners were captured, they were dragged back to Amritsar and forced to
clean the sacred pools that they themselves had desecrated.
The coalition began to gather steam.
They stormed lightly guarded forts, and many of the Afghan administration's best and
brightest were taken prisoner by them.
Tammur's forces were slowly being pushed back towards Afghanistan.
Word of the prince's troubles reached the Durrani court quickly, but they had their
Yet another pretender had risen up in the Pakistani region of the empire.
The architect behind the rebellion had been a lifelong friend of Ahmad Shah Durrani, a
man of influence and power among his peers.
In fact, this guy was one of Ahmad Shah Durrani's first supporters during the wheat pouring
ceremony almost 15 years ago.
Stories of Prince Tammur's failure in the Punjab meant a few of his supporters were
wondering if maybe this was the end of the Durrani empire.
And this friend of Ahmad Shah, smelling blood in the water, decided now was as good a time
as ever to carve out his own kingdom, just like Ahmad Shah had done.
Ahmad took this betrayal personally.
He tried to win back his old friend with diplomacy, even offering him a full pardon, but it didn't
The first attempt at stomping out the rebellion ended in failure.
The newly mustered troops could not stand against the veteran forces commanded by the
But casualties were low, and Ahmad Shah, fully aware of the warbly loyalty of his troops,
pushed quickly for another battle.
In the next battle, he ensured he was personally right up front alongside his men.
With a pearl of pearls standing shoulder to shoulder beside them, his troops won a decisive
The rebel commander and what's left of his vanguard fled.
Despite the trouble he had caused, once Ahmad Shah caught up with his old friend, he forgave
He was happy to have him back as a counselor and kept him in his position.
While this may seem overly sentimental and dangerous, the man was an able administrator
with a lot of influence.
By pardoning him, Ahmad Shah helped maintain the stability of the regions he controlled.
It was not long after this that his loyalty was cemented by a marriage to the Durrani
The decision to pardon him was a good one, and he maintained loyalty to the Durrani
family for the rest of his life.
While things were settling down in Pakistan, things in India were getting worse.
The Sikhs and the Marathis had grown bolder still.
Almost the entire Punjab region had now been taken back.
Worse still, a pretender had murdered the Mughal emperor that Ahmad Shah Durrani had
It seemed that many in the Mughal court were unhappy at their position as an Afghan vassal.
When you want something done, you've got to do it yourself.
Ahmad Shah Durrani rolled up his sleeves, readied the troops, and headed into India.
Jahan Khan, well, he was a skilled military commander but didn't have the strategic
foresight that Ahmad Shah Durrani did.
His strategy of devastating and humiliating the enemy makes for a great victory, but the
Durranis are trying to annex this region into their territory.
Subjugating the local people to merciless destruction had galvanized the countryside
against the Afghans.
Ahmad Shah needed a way to shore up his legitimacy and restore some prestige.
There was no winning the people of the countryside back, that bridge was burnt, but what about
replacing the countryside with people that do like him?
So Afghan settlers were transplanted from Afghanistan and set up in Lahore, a shrewd
move once again showing the longevity of Ahmad Shah Durrani's goals.
With the administrative niceties kicked off, the campaign against the Marathis started
There were very small to medium engagements between the two armies.
Though the Marathis tended to come off worse off, it stunned the Afghans how quickly they
could replace their losses.
The Marathi empire was at its height during this time, having thrown off the heavy overhead
of Mughal taxation and bloated bureaucracy for fighting with high morale, talented officers
and in defense of their homeland.
Ahmad Shah knew that these small little skirmishes were not going to do it.
He needed something decisive and hard to knock them out for good.
A large-scale battle was coming and Ahmad Shah knew he needed allies.
South of Delhi, a high-profile Mughal courtier carved a semi-autonomous territory out of
the ashes of the Mughal state.
His name was Shuja Uddalah and some of the best Mughal troops still standing were loyal
Both Durrani and Marathi courted him for an alliance, but it was Ahmad Shah's honorable
treatment of him as a fellow Muslim that sealed the alliance in their favor.
The forces then marched north across the Ganges and sacked Delhi, yet again.
Once one of the richest cities in the world was reduced to virtual starvation.
With the alliance sealed in the blood of Delhi, there were a few more groups that needed to
be accounted for prior to any large battle.
You might remember the Rajputs, they were defeated way back in the first invasion of
India when they were fighting for the Mughals.
They had kept quiet and seemed content fortifying their own territory.
Ahmad Shah had, for the first time since the invasion, maintained a cordial relationship
Due to their tentative position, that is surrounded by the Marathis on virtually all sides, Ahmad
Shah did not expect them to contribute troops anywhere too far from their borders, but he
did expect their reports and updates on the movements and the Marathis, and he kept friendly
correspondence with them from his side.
This light touch alliance seemed to work well for both parties.
Suraj Mal and his Jats though, well they were a different story.
They rejected outright any alliance with foreign invaders, likely if having to pick between
a Hindu overlord or an Islamic one they'd side with their faith.
A force was sent to the Marathis but apparently the arrogance of the Marathi commander, a
guy named Sadashiv Bao, rubbed Suraj Mal the wrong way and they soon returned home.
A tactical victory for the Durranis as it meant the Jats would remain neutral in any
It's probably about time I introduce our final character, and thankfully for all of us his
name doesn't contain the word Ahmad or Shah.
Sadashiv Bao was to the Marathis what Suraj Mal was to the Jats.
He was a military commander who had spent significant time observing the wars of the
British and the Portuguese, and through his leadership the Marathis had jumped centuries
ahead in military tactics.
Ornate rituals in swordsmanship and personal combat were pushed out of the military curriculum,
and in their place came formation drills and proper maintenance of muskets.
The Marathis were at the top of their game thanks to this guy.
Other smaller states were also conscripted into the Durrani army.
Ahmed Shah knew when to smile, shake hands, keep quiet or praise Allah.
Sadashiv Bao on the other hand was not as worldly.
He knew the Marathi customs sure, but he did tend to put his foot in his mouth a little
when meeting foreign dignitaries.
Overall Ahmed Shah had much more success finding allies, be they Islamic or Hindu.
Briefly, the Durranis and the Marathis both met at the negotiating table but were unable
to come to terms.
Meanwhile new recruits from ambitious young Hindus were rolling in daily, and the Afghan
army was overextending itself in a foreign land.
The Marathis well and truly held the advantage.
This led the Marathis to feel overconfident in their abilities.
So much so that they began to discuss what they would do with the Mughal Empire.
Should they annex it completely?
Would Sadashiv Bao become the new Grand Mughal?
In the end, to preserve whatever little stability the Mughal Empire still carried, they crowned
a puppet emperor, Shah Alam II.
A joke circulated that the Empire of Shah Alam is from Delhi to Palam, Palam being a
Suburb of Delhi.
With each side having mustered everything they could and secured all the allies they
could, the stage had been set for a very large military engagement, perhaps the largest in
the 18th century.
It came to be known as the Third Battle of Panipat.
Just for reference, in the First Battle of Panipat, a plucky young nobody named Babur
had stormed onto the world stage and the Mughal Empire was born.
In the Second Battle of Panipat, his grandson, the brilliant strategist history remembers
as Akbar the Great, solidified Mughal power with a flawless victory.
And now, in the Third Battle of Panipat, the Mughal Emperor cowered behind his throne hoping
the pension he was granted by his overlord would be enough to feed his entourage.
The location of the battle was decided when Marathi forces stormed a key Durrani garrison
on the Yamuni River.
Two of the Durrani's highest officers were taken by surprise and killed.
Ahmad Shah Durrani fasted for two days before making the decision to undertake a risky river
Seasonal floods had swelled the river making it more dangerous than even usual.
The decision proved right though and the successful crossing surprised Surashev Bao whose army
was facing the complete wrong direction and had to turn and face the Durrani host.
The Durrani army slowly began encircling the Marathi forces, sending scouts and raiding
parties to cut off all their supply lines.
And the Marathi's felt a pinch of this immediately.
They had an obscene number of camp followers, around 200,000 people, mostly pilgrims who
were heading north to Hindu holy shrines and had stuck with the army for protection.
All these were mouths that had to be fed.
Surashev Bao could do nothing but sit tight and wait for the reinforcements that were
meant to be coming from the Marathi Prime Minister who was, get this, having a wedding,
which apparently couldn't wait.
Securing supplies became the top priority for the Marathi's as starvation set in.
Every day the army grew weaker.
Surashev Bao knew he had to give battle before things really fell apart.
Hoping to get the jump on the Afghans, he wrote a letter to Sujard-ud-Dala, remember
that's the command of the Mughal forces in the camp of Ahmad Shah, and said, quote,
The last moment has now come.
If anything is possible, do it immediately or let me have a negative reply.
After this, there will be no further opportunity for exchange of notes and words, end quote.
If he hoped the Mughal Prime Minister's allegiance to Ahmad Shah was shaky, he was
Sujard-ud-Dala quickly informed Ahmad Shah of the note.
The Pearl of Pearls wasted no time.
Still wearing his sleeping robe, he sprinted from his tent, mounted his horse and gave
the order for the troops to form up immediately.
The Durrani forces numbered around 60,000 mostly mounted, while the Marathi army was
around 45,000, a mix between mounted and infantry with about 20,000 civilian recruits.
The Durrani's held the numerical and quality advantage, but the Marathi's had some of
the finest French artillery in the world, so does Shiv Bao himself being an expert in
So it was fitting that the battle started with an artillery barrage from the Marathi's,
hoping to soften up the elite Afghan troops in the center.
Initially this worked, but the cannon-mounted camels of the Afghans proved more efficient,
able to be moved more quickly than the heavy French artillery pieces.
For one of the first times in his life, Ahmad Shah was not in the front lines.
This was the largest battle he had ever commanded and trusted no one but himself to take overall
He kept a significant number of reserves and meted them out methodically, keeping a close
eye on divisions that looked to be breaking and ensuring fresh troops were always there
to relieve the beleaguered ones.
The usual fire and retreat the Afghans used so well proved hard for the less mobile Marathi's
to deal with, with the casualties mounting and their cannons being outgunned by a couple
of camels with a gun stuck on top.
So does Shiv Bao dismount his elephant and personally enter the fray.
As he did, a couple of Afghan prisoners spread the rumor to the Marathi troops, hey look
his elephant's got no one on it, he must have been killed.
Looking at the unattended elephant and fearing the worst, the shaky Marathi troop morale
now broke and they began to rout.
The death toll was enormous for a battle of this era, possibly the most costly in the
The Afghans lost around 20,000 soldiers while the Marathi's lost around 30,000, with the
camp followers copping the brunt of it at around 50,000 dead.
The plunder taken was enormous, 50,000 horses, 300 elephants, 3,000 camels, 100,000 bullet
carts, 300 light medium artillery pieces, 25,000 matchlock muskets, 100,000 swords,
spears and pikes.
If we look back on what went wrong, Sada Shiv Bao was not the diplomat Ahmad Shah Durrani
If he had secured alliances, this story could have been very different.
The local alliances that the Afghan made helped give him knowledge of the terrain.
And to the Marathi Prime Minister, I shouldn't have to say this, but maybe don't arrange
a wedding while your barely established empire is under the biggest threat it's ever faced.
The peace treaty concluded soon after and the terms weren't fair.
Although the victory was decisive, the Marathi's were still a strong force and the fairly easy
treaty terms reflect this.
A new Mughal emperor was elevated by the Durrani's and the Marathi's were forced to recognize
They were also forced to acknowledge Durrani occupation of the Punjab region.
After this, Ahmad Shah and his troops headed home.
Before he left, he tried to convince the army to undertake a small campaign against the
Jats who once again refused to acknowledge him as their overlord.
But the army, underpaid, tired and worn down by bands of Sikhs roaming the countryside would
have none of it.
Ahmad Shah arrived in Afghanistan and settled a few minor rebellions before setting to work
rebuilding his would-be capital of Khorasan.
Khorasan sat at the gateway between India and Afghanistan.
If there was any hope for survival of Ahmad Shah's empire, this city had to be the key
After many battles that were passed back and forth, it was depopulated in bad need of repair.
The Shah built a series of strong defensive walls, tower and a tomb for himself and many
spaces left vacant for future developments.
The Shah invited many prominent men of Afghan tribes to settle there, really trying to drive
home this united Afghanistan vibe.
Meanwhile back in the recently won territory of the Punjab, the Sikhs returned with vengeance.
Lahore, the provincial capital, fell quickly, as did many other small garrisons.
The Shah's wrath this time was as bloody as could be.
Crossing into India for the sixth time, the Pearl of Pearls led a colossal 50,000 strong
army supplemented heavily by Uzbeks who had recently joined his ranks.
Soon after crossing, their army ran into a group of around 30,000 Sikhs, made up mostly
of women, children and the elderly.
The Sikh tribe was courted the worst possible time as they were mid-journey between two
towns that had no fortifications whatsoever.
The Sikh warriors stood strong, fighting in moving battles to defend the slow-moving baggage
train until it arrived at the town of Gohal.
Crushingly, the townspeople refused to admit the Sikhs, fearing, probably rightly, the
vengeance from Ahmad Shah.
The beleaguered baggage train carried on, suffering huge casualties from both the heat
and the Afghan army.
Both armies eventually, exhausted, stopped to drink at a spring.
Despite the personal urging of Ahmad Shah, his army refused to continue without rest.
At this point they'd been engaged in combat for over 36 hours with almost no water.
What was left of the Sikhs slipped away quietly into the desert.
This event became known as the Sikh Genocide of 1762, not exactly a high watermark on the
morality scale for the Durrani Empire.
But there was still more to come though.
Later the army again marched to Amritsar and gave the recently repaired Sikh capital the
same treatment they dished out earlier, mutilating cows, decapitating pilgrims and reducing the
site to rubble.
According to some sources, as an explosion ripped apart one of the larger temples, a
small piece of rubble about the size of a coin nicked Ahmad Shah, cutting into his cheek.
It was no major wound and he likely thought nothing of it.
Characteristically, despite the destruction of their most sacred religious sites, the
Sikh's morale did not wane.
Any attempt at diplomacy or talks of peace was met with violent rejection.
For them, the door to that deal had swung shut long ago.
Small skirmishes took place across the countryside and the Afghans usually got the better of
the Sikhs, but they did not relent no matter how many they lost.
Worse still, once the Afghan army left, the Sikhs quickly took back all possessions in
Ahmad Shah, clearly out of ideas, calls another jihad against them.
An exchange with him and one of his tribal leaders who was planning a pilgrimage to Mecca
goes like this, quote,
The Akers dogs, meaning the Sikhs, and lustful infidels have overrun the territories of Multan.
How can you think of going to Mecca while this depraved sect is causing havoc?
And he goes on to insist, quote, Come so that we may destroy this faithless sect and enslave
their women and children, end quote.
Despite the ferocious and merciless destruction of the Sikhs and their temples, they refused
to be cowed.
Once their troop numbers fell too low for a pitched battle, they resorted to guerrilla
attacks which slowly began to sap the morale of the Durrani army.
After eight invasions of India, enough was enough.
Nothing was official, but this marked the end of Afghan incursion into the Punjab.
With the reluctant withdrawal, Ahmad Shah spent his time strengthening rule over the
area west of the Indus River.
Subjugating a minor rebellion, he was gifted the kurgo sharifa, a sacred shirt said to
be worn by the prophet himself.
This was treasured by Ahmad Shah, and he built a very large shrine in Khorasan to house it
where it remains to this very day.
I wish I could say we've got a picture of this on our website, but like Ethiopia with
the Holy Grail, they don't show it to the public, except in very rare circumstances,
so we'll have to take their word for it.
Not long after, Nader Shah's grandson, Shahrokh, seemingly forgetting the lenience shared to
him, made another attempt at independence.
The rebellion was quickly stomped out by Ahmad Shah.
Once again, he honored his promise to Nader.
Shahrokh was spared and returned to his previous position.
Sadly though, other conquerors would not be so kind.
Not long after, Shahrokh was brutally tortured to death.
His torturer convinced himself that Shahrokh had squirrelled away a trove of treasure from
He had his head shaved, paste applied to it, and a jug of molten lead poured over him.
At 48 years old, the Pearl of Pearl's health was beginning to fail.
He may have been suffering from diabetes or gout, but more noticeable was the wound he
had received while sacking Amritsar, which had festered and slowly was eating away at
His doctors were unable to stop the progression and instead had a silver nose created for
him, which is badass of course, but I'd probably rather have my actual nose.
The origins of this face-eating wound are really debated.
Some sources claim it's from the cut that he got at Amritsar, others say it's from cancer,
and others just don't mention it at all.
Whatever the case, Ahmad Shah had not built his empire solely for it to fall apart as
soon as he died and began finalizing his successor.
The obvious choice would be Timur Shah, the favored son who had some military and governing
experience in the Punjab, however we haven't mentioned he had another son, a first born
Suleiman Mirza was his name and he was rightfully unhappy about the state of inheritance.
Ahmad Shah stated that despite it being custom, Timur Shah was, quote, indefinitely more
capable of governing than his brother, describing Suleiman as violent without clemency and stating
that he had not won the hearts of the Afghan tribes, unlike his brother.
With his necrotic facial wound spreading horribly by the day, the once charismatic Pearl of
Pearls now relied on his aides to translate his slurred gurgles into commands, and eventually
as the wound ate further and further into the back of his throat, he lost the use of
his voice entirely, forcing him to write every command.
One source says that the rotting flesh at the back of his throat was so severe that
maggots would periodically drop from the top of his throat cavity into any food or liquid
he was swallowing.
Perhaps mercifully, Ahmad Shah Durrani died soon after.
Prince Timur, careful to ensure the succession was smooth, had his father's escort secretly
moved to Kandahar, where he still rests to this very day.
An easy criticism of Ahmad Shah is to say that he rode on the coattails of Nader Shah.
I suppose this is true in the case of the Mughals.
Nader Shah had kicked open the door of a rotten house.
But with the independent ethnic groups that would cause Ahmad Shah so much trouble, the
Sikhs, the Rajputs and the Marathis, this was completely uncharted territory, there
was no playbook for this.
Nader Shah never had to fight these continual guerrilla insurrections in the same way Ahmad
Shah Durrani did.
He also didn't have to unify a historically not unified nation.
While yes, Nader Shah levied Afghan troops, he had no intention or need to unite them.
In fact, it was better they were divided.
But the region of Persia had been unified off and on since the times of Alexander and
Darius or even before.
There was a tradition of paying taxes, contributing men for the army and accepting losses with
Ahmad Shah had a much more fickle and decentralized people to try and accommodate.
With each victory, he had to ensure the loot flowed freely and with each loss, almost without
fail an insurrection started.
There's many differences between the reign of Ahmad Shah and Nader Shah so I don't
think overall it's a fair comparison.
In the same vein as Skanderbeg did for Albania, Ahmad Shah united a very decentralized people
giving them a sense of pride for not being Pashtun or Tajik or Uzbek but an Afghan.
While yes, their old ethnic identity persisted, to achieve any form of unification in a single
generation is a monumental feat and this was his greatest accomplishment.
For the Pearl of Pearls, patriotism bound them to his land and spirituality bound them
to his people.
We didn't get into it but Ahmad Shah was also concerned for the plight of Muslims in
China and reached out to the Chinese Qing dynasty many times around their proposed plan
to subjugate Muslims on his northern border.
While this never amounts to anything like an invasion of China, it proves both his devotion
to his faith and the flexibility of his plans in regard to expansion.
His spirituality extended to his interaction with others and many reaped the rewards of
Nader's troublesome grandson Shahrokh comes to mind most prominently but also the non-Pashtun
Afghans whose career options opened up under his leadership.
And today I'll leave you with a poem that the Pearl of Pearls himself wrote.
It's about the beauty he saw in his homeland in a united Afghanistan, which seems particularly
heartfelt especially considering what's happening right now in Afghanistan.
By blood we are immersed in love with you.
The youth lose their heads for your sake.
I come to you and my heart finds rest.
Away from you grief clings to my heart like a snake.
I forget the throne of Delhi when I remember the mountaintops of my Afghan land.
If I must choose between you and the world, I shall not hesitate to claim your barren
deserts as my own.
Thanks again for tuning into Anthology of Heroes.
If you'd like to hear more about the kind of legacy Ahmad Shah Durrani left behind,
I was lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with a distant relative of his.
You can find that episode among all our others for the show and I'll also be adding it
as a link in the show notes to this one.
Thanks a lot and have a good day.
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