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DURRANI  DYNASTY. The origin of the Durrani (also known as Abdali) Dynasty coincided with the violent death of the Iranian monarch Nadir Shah Afshar (1747) and the establishment of an independent political entity in a part of Khurasan that by the mid-1800s was known as Afghanistan. The founder of the dynasty was Ahmad Khan Abdali. (1747-1772), Nadir Shah’s youthful treasury official and a trusted commander of an Afghan (Pashtun) cavalry force.

Ahmad Shah Durrani

Upon the murder of Nadir Shah by his courtiers, Ahmad Khan escaped with his 4,000-man Afghan cavalry and much of the Shah’s portable treasury to Kandahar, his native tribal territory. In a jirgah (council) that lasted nine days, the elders of the Abdali Pashtun tribe selected Ahmad Khan as their paramount chief, and he became Ahmad Shah (king) Abdali. Supported by his comrades in the Persian army, Uzbek officers, and most Pashtun tribes in the area, Ahmad Shah threw off the yoke of foreign domination and launched an ambitious and successful military campaign, ultimately dominating most of the territories of the former Mughal, Safavid, and Shaybanid empires.

Following a dream, Ahmad Shah changed his title to Ahmad Shah Durr-i Durran or Durr-i Dowran (Pearl of Pearls or Pearl of the Age), hence the dynastic and tribal name Durrani. He was a charismatic leader, a warrior, a poet, a skilled diplomat, and a pious Muslim with strong Sufi ties. The king made Kandahar his capital, built a new city, and organized his court and imperial government following the Persian model he knew best. He also confirmed the land holdings of the Abdali (now Durrani) tribe and awarded special privileges to members of his own Sadozai clan. In accordance with the practice of Muslim rulers, Ahmad Shah issued coins for circulation in his own name and had his name mentioned as sovereign in the Friday and `Eid khutbahs (sermons).

At Ahmad Shah’s death (1772) the Durrani) empire stretched from Khurasan to Kashmir and Punjab, and from the Oxus to the Indian Ocean. His principal strategy for empire building was to wage foreign wars of conquest directed essentially toward India. Ahmad Shah’s repeated successes in military ventures in India increased his reputation and brought him considerable loot with which to maintain a small regular army and keep the continued allegiance of local khans through favors and reward. Ahmad Shah’s Islamic zeal may have also played an important role in his wars of conquest in India.

Ahmad Shah’s son Timur Shah (1772-1793) lost the confidence of local Pashtuns in Kandahar, and so he shifted his capital to Kabul (1775-1776) and barely managed to hold onto his patrimony. The death of Timur Shah (1793) marked the beginning of the long-term disintegration of the Durrani) empire through internal disorder and European colonial invasions and pressures. Timur Shah’s twenty-three sons from his many wives engaged in bloody fraternal feuds over the royal succession. Eventually the country was plunged into a period of intensified civil war (1818-1826) that ultimately resulted in the shift of dynastic power from the Sadozai clan to the chiefs of the Barakzai (or Muhammadzai) clan of the Durrani Pashtuns (1818-1929).

Between 1818 and 188o, the major revenue-producing parts of the Durrani empire such as Punjab, Kashmir, and Sind were lost to the Sikhs, and Baluchistan to the local independent khans. The rising Qajar Dynasty in Iran had claimed most of Khurasan and repeatedly attacked Herat. Local chieftains held sway in many other areas. Under conditions of multiple power centers and rulers, old feuds were rekindled within the Durrani) tribe as well as between them and the Ghilzai Pashtun. Sectarian and ethnic differences were politicized as various warlords pursued possibilities for furthering personal ambitions to gain the Kabul throne.

Dost Muhammad, the youngest son of the Sardar Payinda Khan Barakzai, succeeded in his struggle for control of Kabul in 1826. He faced a growing Sikh threat from the east, but it was not until 1834, during a direct Sikh attack on Peshawar, that Dost Muhammad rose to defend Islam in a jihad. Upon his declaring his intentions, the Kabul `ulama’ conferred on him the title of amir al-mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful). This event not only established the potency of the concept of jihad against foreign threats but also formally marked the foundation of the dynastic shift to the Barakzai clan when Dost Muhammad became the Amir (not Shah) of Afghanistan (1834-1838).

During the first Anglo-Afghan war (1839-1842) the British installed Shah Shuja’, a former Sadozai monarch (1803-18o9), in Kabul. However, upon Britain’s military defeat, Amir Dost Muhammad resumed the Kabul throne (1842-1863) and received much financial and military aid from Britain. Between 1863 and 1879 Dost Muhammad’s three brothers fought each other over the succession. The intensification of the British and Russian “Great Game” in Central Asia led to the British invasion of Afghanistan. At the end of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880), Afghanistan emerged as a buffer state with its present boundaries, demarcated entirely by Britain and Russia. Britain controlled Afghanistan’s foreign affairs.

With Britain’s assistance, Amir Dost Muhammad’s grandson Amir `Abd al-Rahman (1880-1901), the so-called “Iron Amir,” consolidated direct rule across the country. By brutally suppressing tribal and rural leaders and appealing to the Sunni ‘ulama’, he created the modern Afghan state. His son Amir Habib Allah (1901-1919) relaxed some of his harsher measures and in 1903 established the first modern school, Habibiyah, and later the first significant newspaper, Siraj al-akhbdr. When Habib Allah was assassinated, his son Amanullah took the title of king (1919-1929) and declared Afghanistan’s independence from Britain, which was granted after a brief war in 1919. King Amanullah, impressed by Ataturk’s secular experiments, launched a series of liberal constitutional reforms and modernization programs; resistance to these led to a popular jihdd that forced his abdication and the end of rule by his branch of the Barakzai clan.

Shortly thereafter Muhammad Nadir Shah (r. 19291933), a member of the Musahiban family (a different branch of the Barakzai clan of the Durrani), mounted the throne. Following Nadir Shah’s assassination his nineteen-year-old son Muhammad Zahir Shah (r. 19331973) became king. From 1933 to 1963 Zahir Shah reigned while two of his uncles and a cousin ruled as prime ministers. Concerned primarily with preserving their family’s rule, the Musahiban adopted a cautious modernization program based on autocratic domestic and xenophobic foreign policies until 1955 Prince Muhammad Da’ud, prime minister from 1953 to 1963, began a series of five-year plans aimed at expanding education and communications infrastructures, receiving aid from both the USSR and the West. Da’ud resigned in 1963 owing to the disfavor of his policies opposing Pakistan and favoring greater dependence on the USSR.

Between 1963 and 1973 the king experimented with democracy, an effort that failed because he did not legalize political parties and allowed interference in politics by his family and friends. The Communist Party and Islamist opposition movements formed during this period and agitated against both the government and each other. In a military coup (1973) assisted by the pro-Soviet Parcham wing of the Communist Party, Muhammad Da’ud overthrew the Durrani monarchy and declared himself president of the Republic of Afghanistan (1973-1978) Da’ud relied heavily on his old royal networks and began to distance himself from the pro-Soviet Communists whom he had earlier protected and nurtured. In an environment of growing discontent, in April 1978, a Communist coup ousted and killed Da’ud, thus ending the Durrani dynasty in Afghanistan. [See also Afghanistan.]


`Abd al-Rahman Khan. The Life of Abdur Rahman, Amir of Afghanistan (1900). 2 vols. Edited by Sultan Mahomed Khan. Oxford and New York, 1980. Alleged autobiography of the amir, very informative about his views on Afghan society and politics.

Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan. Princeton, 1980. Valuable reference on the general history and ethnography of the country.

Elphinstone, Mountstuart. An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul (1815). 2 vols. London and New York, 1972. Excellent source on the rise of the Durrani empire and ethnography of the Pashtun tribes, during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Gregorian, Vartan. The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946. Stanford, Calif., 1969. Superb analysis of state formation in Afghanistan.

Kakar, M. Hasan. Government and Society in Afghanistan: The Reign of Amir `Abd al-Rahman Khan. Austin and London, 1979. Excellent documentation of the amir’s policies and practices, based on vernacular and Western sources.

Mohan, Lal. Life of the Amir Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul (1846). 2 vols. Oxford and New York, 1978. Valuable account of the wars of succession and Britain’s involvement through the First AngloAfghan War.

Poullada, Leon B. Reform and Rebellion in Afghanistan, 1919-1929: King Amanullah’s Failure to Modernize Tribal Society. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1973. Useful but conventional interpretation of King Amanullah’s disastrous attempt at political reform.

Singh, Ganda. Ahmad Shah Durrani: Father of Modern Afghanistan. London, 1959. Rich biographical history of a remarkable, but little known Afghan king.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/durrani-dynasty/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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